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Delays in passing legislation is an indictment on Parliament


OPINION: Given that the year is almost over and the next election will most probably take place by May next year, it is a race against time for Parliament to pass a number of bills, writes Professor Bheki Mngomezulu.

Parliament is in the race against time to pass a number of bills before next year’s elections: File picture: Nardus Engelbrecht, African News Agency (ANA)

By Professor Bheki Mngomezulu

AS THE country prepares for the 2024 general elections, and as more new political parties register with the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), the level of excitement has increased significantly.

Some say that the 2024 elections will be as exciting as the first democratic election in 1994. Part of the reason for this view is the decline in support for both the ANC and the DA. Political parties such as the EFF, IFP and Freedom Front Plus are showing an upward trajectory.

One important thing is that constitutionally President Cyril Ramaphosa must dissolve Parliament to allow MPs to rally support from the electorate and seek a fresh mandate.

While these processes are under way, there is a concern about the number of bills that must be approved by the current administration before its term of office ends.

The question which arises is whether there is enough time for the MPs to pass these bills into law. The process of passing a bill is tedious. It starts at the ministry level and goes to Cabinet before it is considered by the legislature.

Some bills that affect provinces must go to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

All bills are sent to the president who has three options: sign the bill into law, seek legal advice to check the bill’s compliance with the Constitution, or refer the bill back to Parliament for ratification. This process may take long due to several factors such as postponements of the debates and other factors.

In the past, the president has delayed in considering bills forwarded to him for consideration. This has resulted in delays in passing legislation. Moreover, some pieces of legislation have been successfully challenged at the Constitutional Court by various parties. These actions have further delayed the passing and implementation of legislation.

While these things happen, the electorate who are the end-users of such legislation are seriously disadvantaged. That is why it is important for the lawmakers to move with speed in passing legislation while ensuring that they do due diligence to avert any potential litigation.

Given that this year is almost over and given that the next election will most probably happen by May 2024, it is a race against time.

Having over 30 bills still listed as either being “in process” or with the president, it is unlikely that all these bills will be passed on time by the current administration before its term of office ends.

A few questions arise. Why have these bills been allowed to pile up? Is it lack of time or is the delay due to postponements occasioned by failure by the MPs to attend and meet the required quorum? Is the delay caused by late arrival of legal advice from the legal teams? Is there shortage of staff?

Is the delay caused by lack political will by MPs and the president? Does lack of resources have any impact in the speedy processing of the bills? These are some of the questions which beg attention. The reality is that there is a slow pace in processing bills to become law.

From an outside perspective, this is an indictment on the lawmakers. It raises questions about the capacity of Parliament to execute its constructional mandate. Section 42(2) of the Constitution states that “the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces participate in the legislative process in the manner set out in the Constitution.” Failure to perform this duty amounts to dereliction of duty, which is unconstitutional.

On their part, MPs have their own reasons which explain this delay. These include the time factor, resource constraints, lack of skill, etc. While it would be unfair to dismiss these and other reasons, the electorate would like to see a speedy but efficient process being followed by their representatives in Parliament.

Leaving many bills hanging would have negative implications. Given the number of political parties that are preparing to contest next year’s elections, there is a possibility that a different political context will prevail in 2024. When that happens, some of the bills which would have passed this year might not see the light of day. In that case, any hope of benefiting from such legislation would be diminished.

It would be wrong to assume that MPs are not aware of this situation. It would also be incorrect to think that politicians have failed to read the political mood in the country in the build-up to the 2024 general elections. So, there must be reasons why they have failed to pass these bills into law. If they have wasted their time on insignificant matters such as chasing the Busisiwe Mkhwebane matter to settle political scores or in defending Ramaphosa on the Phala Phala matter, history will judge them harshly!

* Professor Mngomezulu is director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at the Nelson Mandela University

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the vies of the DFA.

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