STANDING COMMITTEE PRIVATE MEMBERS' LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS AND SPECIAL PETITIONS :March 2005
National Parliament does not have an Act in place to deal specifically with petitions or legislative proposals. The only thing we basically rely on is the Rules of Parliament, which governs the functioning of the Committee.
The overriding factor to be borne in mind when dealing with Petitions and Legislative Proposals is the principle of public participation as enshrined in the Constitution. Members of the public should in essence feel that their voices are being heard and that their concerns have been met by an interactive process between themselves and their elected representatives.
A private members bill is a bill that is initiated by a member of either House who is not a Minister. A private member's bill is to bring to the notice of the government a matter of public importance. Please note that every member of Parliament, who is not a Minister or Deputy Minister, is called a Private Member.
A petition, on the other hand, is a request either for a demand for a favour or for the redress of an injustice. In it's simplest form, a petition is a way of bringing grievances to the attention of the legislative authority.
Constitutional provisions giving effect to the Committee.
The Constitution (Bill of Rights', in particular, Section 17 states "everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions".
This should be read in conjunction with Section 42 (3) which states " the National Assembly is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the Constitution. It does this by choosing the President, by providing a national forum for public consideration of issues, by passing legislation and by scrutinizing and overseeing executive action."
Section 73 provides for three ways in which a Bill can be introduced, namely:
1. through the executive (ie cabinet member or Deputy Minister)
2. through a committee of parliament (but not a joint committee)
3. by means of a private members" bill.
The only limitation that this provision imposes is that only the Cabinet member responsible for national financial matters may introduce a money Bill in the Assembly. This means that a private member is precluded from introducing a bill that appropriates public funds or imposes tax.
PROCEDURE WHEN DEALING WITH A PRIVATE MEMBER'S BILL
Steps prior to introduction
The primary responsibility for the drafting of the Private Members' Bills is that of the member concerned.
The member should ensure that no duplication of the process has taken place, for example, he/she should ensure that a Bill of a similar nature is not pending before the House or that the House has not already given a decision on the same.
Introduction of private members bill
Any member who introduces a bill in either House must obtain the permission of the Assembly to do so. In order to get such permission the relevant member would have to submit a memorandum to the Presiding Officer which:
1. sets out the particulars of the proposed legislation
2. explain the objects of the proposed legislation
3. state whether the proposed legislation has any financial implications for the state. If so, whether those implications may be a determining factor when the proposed legislation is considered.
The Presiding Officer will then refer the proposed legislation to the parliamentary law advisors (Dr Palmer's Office), to check if it meets the above -mentioned requirements as set out in NA Rule234. Please note that the parliamentary law advisors should confine themselves to verifying whether the requirements of NA Rule 234 have been met and no further.
Once the legislative proposal has been certified that it meets the relevant requirements, it is then referred back to the Presiding Officer who has a duty to table the memorandum and to refer it to the relevant Committee.
Referral of legislative proposal to Committee
The Presiding Officer will then refer the member's memorandum to the Committee. The Committee is required to consult the committee within whose portfolio the proposal falls' The Committee should at all times uphold the principle of the proposal.
The Committee would usually enquire as to what is the position of government on the matter. In the Committee process, the Committee usually does not call for any submissions or representations from members of the public on the Bill.
However, it usually calls the member responsible for the Bill to brief the Committee on the objectives of the Bill. In instances where a government department is in the process of initiating measures regarding the subject matter of the Bill, the relevant member may then withdraw the proposal.
Consideration of the legislative proposal
After considering the member's memorandum and the relevant committee's report, the Committee can choose to make one of two recommendations. It can either recommend that permission be given to the member to proceed with the proposed legislation or it can recommend that such permission be refused.
If the Committee recommends that the proposed legislation be proceeded with, it may-
The Committee must then table in the House the member's memorandum and the Committee's recommendations to it. This should include the views of the relevant portfolio committee with which the Committee has consulted.
The House may-
Permission to proceed with proposal
Where the House gives permission for the proposal to be proceeded with, it may either express itself on the desirability of the proposal or subject it's permission to conditions.
The member concerned must now prepare a draft bill and a memorandum setting out the objects of a Bill. The JTM should be consulted for advice on the classification of the bill and it must comply with NA Rule 241 and NA Rule 258.
The Secretary to Parliament should also reimburse a member for any reasonable expenses incurred provided that the Speaker approved these expenses before they were incurred.
PROCEDURE WHEN DEALING WITH PETITONS
Steps prior to introduction
The majority of petitions presented to Parliament are from individuals seeking relief, in the form of a pension, for services rendered to the State.
Usually an individual will approach a Member of Parliament and request that he introduces the petition on his behalf. The Member would be referred to as the "sponsor" of the petition. Petitions must be in the form prescribed by the Speaker in accordance with the guidelines determined by the Rules Committee.
A petition must be in one official language 14 and must be signed by the petitioners themselves, 15(unless otherwise stated by the Speaker). This would include persons who are unable to write to make a mark, however, it is a requirement that the "mark" made in this instance, should be done in the presence of two witnesses, who must sign the petition in that capacity.
The petition is then lodged by the relevant member with the Secretary for approval and tabling by the Speaker and must be signed by that member at the beginning of this lodgement process.
The Clerk of the Papers would refer the petition to the parliamentary law advisors for certification. The parliamentary law advisors will check if there is existing legislation in place that could cover the relief that the petitioner is seeking to address and whether or not Parliament has the jurisdiction to deal with the matter.
If the petition is approved, the Speaker must then table the petition in the House .
Referral of Petitions to Committees
After the petition has been tabled, the Speaker will now refer the petition to the Committee. One should bear in mind that there are two kinds of petitions:
(a) special petitions
(b) petitions of a general nature
Should the petition be considered a special petition, it would be referred to the Committee on Private Members' Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions. Examples in this instance a petitioner would claim pension benefits.
Should the petition be considered a petition of a general nature, then the Speaker must refer the petition to the relevant portfolio committee or other appropriate committee. Examples of this would be a petition requesting Parliament to financially sponsor someone overseas for presidential elections.
At this stage, copies of the petitions will be sent to all members of the Committee. The committee secretary would have to write to the Chief Director of Pension Administration, National Treasury and send a copy of the petition to him/her for report to the Committee.
The Committee may discuss the petition but may not make recommendations until the report from the National Treasury has been received. The Committee may call on any official in the Department of Finance to provide the Committee with any further information, in terms of the report, it may require.
As in the case of legislative proposals, witnesses are hardly ever summoned to appear before the committee. A petitioner may appear before the Committee in support of his/her petition. On occasion, the Committee has paid the petitioner's costs if he/she was unable to do so himself/herself.
Consideration of Petition
After deliberation on this matter, the Committee will present a report to the House for consideration. The Committee may recommend that the
When the House considers the report of the Committee it may
Granting of a Petition
Where the House grants permission for the Petition to be proceeded with, it would adopt the Committee's report. The Minister of Finance would introduce the Pension (Supplementary) Bill, a schedule to which contains the recommendations of the Committee as adopted by the House. When the Bill has been passed the petitioners are notified of the decision of the Committee.
Current Legislative Proposal before the Committee:
1. Magistrate's Courts Amendment Bill (Mr L K Joubert) (ATC 18/02/05)
2.Represented Political Parties' Election Fund Bill (Mr P F Smith) (ATC 28/02/05)