Currently, the public is allowed to participate in parliamentary processes through public hearings and a public comments period held when legislation or regulations are amended or added, but Sisulu said this was not enough.
“Public participation can only be effective if inputs find expression in parliamentary processes.”
Sisulu said he was also concerned about the absence of MPs from sittings of the National Assembly and added that a policy needed to be developed to govern members’ attendance.
He pointed out that the matter would be finalised at the next Joint Rules Committee meeting to be held on July 31.
“There should be an implementable policy governing members’ attendance, otherwise the wrong signal will continue to be sent to the public, which is that there are no consequences for members who do not attend the proceedings of Parliament.”
Sisulu said he was deeply concerned that an increasing amount of legislation was being returned to the National Assembly for correction – either section 75 legislation, which the NCOP had recommended that the National Assembly amends to make it constitutional or legislation that was found to be unconstitutional by the courts.
“Because we are a constitutional state, all laws must pass the test of constitutionality. In this regard, we must ensure that at all times, the laws we make are in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution,” he said.
He pointed to the recent judgment in the Cape High Court in the Director of Public Prosecutions, Western Cape vs Prins.
The judgment held that as 29 sexual offences listed in the Sexual Offence Act did not contain a penalty clause, an accused found guilty of any of these offences could not be sentenced.
He said the quality of legislation was often a consequence of inadequate scrutiny.
The Constitutional and Legal Services Office was instructed to set up a legal drafting unit and Sisulu said the proposal had been approved and the process was now under way to staff the unit.
But he said MPs needed to become more professional, and in this they could turn to the various outside stakeholders.
“We have an abundance of willing and able stakeholders, including academia, research institutions, special-interest groups and civil society, who, on an ongoing basis are able to ensure that we have access to independent resources of specialised knowledge and information. We should make maximum use of them.”
Sisulu said Parliament’s presiding officers had seconded the Development Bank of SA’s (DBSA) Professor Mahommed Jahed to help with setting up the Parliamentary Budget Office.
Jahed has worked with Parliament over the last two years in conducting workshops on developing understanding and implementation of the Budget Office, following a study tour of South Korea and Japan.
To hasten the setting up of a Budget Office for Parliament, certain challenges relating to the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, needed to be addressed.
These challenges relate mostly to the impractical time frames stipulated in the act.
The matter had been referred to the Standing Committee on Finance for it to draft appropriate amendments, he said.
Sisulu said he was concerned about the number of parliamentary questions that were being answered in time by government ministers.
He said he had written to several ministers to remind them of their constitutional obligations, but that the improvement thus far had only been “marginal”.
“I have now directed members to table proposals at the National Assembly Rules Committee that will enhance and facilitate the questions process.
He said he had also requested a meeting with the leader of government business in Parliament, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, to find a way to address the matter.
“Until the rules have changed, I urge that the rules be complied with,” he said.
The Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Mninwa Mahlangu, said ministers last year answered 94% of questions raised in the NCOP, up from 90% in the year before. However, Mahlangu stressed that ministers needed to answer 100% of questions.
ANC MP Vincent Smith said South Africa was one of the few countries in the world where the seat of executive and legislative power were more than 1 000km apart.
This, he said, also affected public participation because Parliament was located far away from the majority of the country’s population.