BILL WATCH 80-2021 - National Assembly Approves 2022 Budget, Adjourns until 15 February 2022

BILL WATCH 80/2021

[10th December 2021]

The National Assembly Has Adjourned until 15th February 2022

after Approving the 2022 Budget.

The Senate will Meet on Tuesday 14th December to Consider the Budget.

The National Assembly Approves the 2022 Budget

The National Assembly sat on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.  It completed all items of Budget business, including approving the Estimates of Expenditure and passing both Budget Bills and transmitting them to the Senate which is due to attend to both Bills next week.  The House then adjourned until 15th February next year.  How this was achieved is outlined in the paragraphs that follow.

Fast-tracking of Budget Business approved

At the start of the sitting on Tuesday 7th December the House approved the customary fast-tracking resolution moved by the Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Development.  This suspended the operation of Standing Orders Nos. 53, 66(2), 144 and 147 in respect of:  the remaining portion of the Budget debate; Committee of Supply [approval of the Estimates of Expenditure]; the Finance Bill [link]; and the Appropriation (2022) Bill [link].  In the event, as will be seen below, fast-tracking was only applied in earnest on Thursday 9th December, when the House sat until 9.45 pm

Tuesday’s sitting was taken up by Hon Mashakada’s speech setting out the Opposition’s reaction to the Budget and by the presentation of first batch of committee reports on the post-Budget consultations conducted by Portfolio Committees from 30th November  to Thursday 2nd December.  The House sat until 5.25 pm. 

Wednesday’s longer sitting began with an initial discussion, initiated by Hon Mliswa, on the wisdom of MPs’ being physically present at the sitting when it was known that a large number of Parliamentary staff members had tested positive for Covid-19; in addition, it appeared that the Speaker was in self-isolation after contact with a person who had subsequently tested positive.  Hon Mliswa, having eventually been overruled, then left the National Assembly chamber.  The remainder of the sitting was taken up by the presentation of further committee reports.

Thursday afternoon’s marathon sitting was completely virtual, it having been announced that morning that all physical meetings at Parliament were suspended.  MPs were connected to the proceedings in the National Assembly chamber, via their “gadgets”, from their hotel rooms, homes or elsewhere.  As the verbatim record of these virtual proceedings [Hansard] had not been released at the time of writing this bulletin, we are unable to go into detail.  The Votes and Proceedings of the proceedings in the House [available in soft copy], however, shows that the following steps in the Budget process were completed:

1.   The Budget debate was completed by the National Assembly’s approval of the motion by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development that leave be granted to bring in the Finance Bill.  The Minister then presented the Bill, which was given its First Reading and referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC].

2.   The whole House then went into Committee of Supply to consider the Estimates of Expenditure, which were reported without amendment. 

3.   The House then adopted the Committee of Supply’s report, and ordered that the Bill to give effect to the approved Estimates of Expenditure be brought in by the Minister.

4.   The Minister presented the Appropriation (2022) Bill, which was given its First Reading and referred to the PLC.

5.   The PLC returned a non-adverse report on the Finance Bill and the Bill was taken through all its remaining stages without amendment. 

6.   The PLC then returned a non-adverse report on the Appropriation (2022) Bill and this, too, was taken through all its remaining stages without amendment.

7.   Both Bills were finally transmitted to the Senate.

Note on the last-minute gazetting of the two Budget Bills

The Finance Bill and the Appropriation (2022) were only gazetted on the morning of Thursday 9th December.  That left MPs very little time to examine the final legal drafts of the Bills in detail before they were called on to approve them later the same day. 

The adjournment until next year

The National Assembly then adjourned for slightly over two months, until Tuesday 15th February 2022 at 2.15 pm.

Next Week in the Senate

The Senate last sat briefly on Thursday 25th November.  It is due to resume sitting on Tuesday 14th December. 

All sittings next week will be virtual in view of the announcement that there will be no physical meetings in Parliament until further notice.  In the circumstances the Senate will probably limit itself to considering and approving the two Budget Bills passed on 9th December by the National Assembly and transmitted to the Senate ­– and leave the two Bills currently awaiting their attention [the Marriages Bill and the Pension and the Provident Funds Bill] to be dealt with next year. 

Fast- tracking of Budget Bills expected

Senators will probably be called on to follow the example of the National Assembly by approving the fast-tracking of both the Finance Bill and the Appropriation (2022) Bill. 

These two Bills are different from ordinary Bills.  They are Money Bills.  The Constitution does not allow the Senate to amend Bills certified by the Speaker as Money Bills, but restricts Senators to recommending changes to the National Assembly, which that House is not obliged to accept.  This severely limits the Senate’s role, leaving the final responsibility for Money Bills to the National Assembly.  The Senate has not recently, if ever, recommended changes to Money Bills, which would only serve to delay what are inevitably Bills that have an urgent deadline. 

In December 2019, for instance, the Senate passed both 2020 Budget Bills in the course of a single afternoon, without recommending changes.  And in December 2020 the same happened.  If that pattern is followed this year, both Bills will probably be gazetted as Acts before the end of the year – which would be appropriate because both Bills are designed to come into force with effect from 1st January 2022.

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