Role of Portfolio Committees

Portfolio Committees are the ‘engine’ of the Provincial Legislature and play a vital role in the process of building democracy and facilitating public involvement in the Legislature. The Committee system of the Legislature is one of the most important mechanisms for ensuring efficient, transparent government and allowing public input in the law-making process. Discussions and debates cannot be held in detail during the sittings of the House. Portfolio Committees have therefore been formed to do most of the detailed work such as considering and scrutinizing Bills and dealing with issues related to the work of the Members of the Executive Council (MECs) and their respective provincial government department.

Portfolio Committees play a vital role in facilitating public participation by providing forums such as public hearings for the public to air their views and make submissions regarding issues. A public hearing is a meeting where a Portfolio Committee hears the views of the public (usually about a Bill or a petitions-related issue). Public hearings are held in cities, towns and villages throughout the province to accommodate all the people in the Eastern Cape province. Public hearings are advertised in the media. Local government, community structures, political parties and organisations, as well as identified stakeholders, are individually invited to attend the hearings to make submissions or raise concerns.

Your voice needs to be heard. Take control of your life and aid your community by attending public hearings and participating in the legislative processes. You can also petition the Legislature, so that one of its Portfolio Committees can look into your concern.

WHO SERVES ON THESE COMMITTEES?

All Members of the Provincial Legislature (MPLs), with the exception of the Members of the Executive Council (MEC), are appointed to serve in one or more Portfolio Committees.

The size of the committees varies between 6 and 15 MPLs, and all political parties are represented. This ensures that every political party has the chance to have its say on topics under discussion.

WHAT POWERS DO THESE COMMITTEES HAVE?

The Committees have the power to initiate and introduce, to call and examine witnesses, and call for documents and books.

Committees consider Bills and matters referred to it and make recommendations to the House. Before a Bill goes before a sitting of the House, it is taken to the Portfolio Committee that deals with the particular subject (for example, a Bill that deals with any educational issue will be referred to the Portfolio Committee on Education). Members of the Portfolio Committee will discuss the Bill, take into account any comments made by the public and suggest changes to be made to the Bill. The Portfolio Committee can even recommend that the Bill be rejected.

In terms of the Constitution of South Africa, the Provincial Government is accountable to the Legislature. This accountability function of the Legislature is carried out through the Portfolio Committees. Committees oversee Government Departments and call MECs and departmental officials to account. Portfolio Committees have the right to call on MECs and departmental officials to explain their actions. This oversight function is further enhanced by the Legislature's responsibility of studying and passing the annual budgets of the provincial government departments. MPLs have to ensure that the money allocated is spent wisely and that there is no wastage or corruption.

WHEN ARE COMMITTEE MEETINGS HELD?

Committee meetings are held throughout the year, whether the Legislature is in session or not. Committee meetings are usually held at the Legislature building in Bhisho. However, provision has been made to hold such meetings beyond the seat of the Legislature. This is done