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Parliamentary portfolio committee meetings

In a virtual meeting, the Committee convened to receive a briefing from the Independent Electoral Commission (the IEC) on the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill [B22B – 2020]. The briefing included an outline of the purpose and objectives of the Bill, and a clause-by-clause analysis of the amendments it contains and its implications on the 2021 local government elections.

The IEC stated that the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill seeks to amend three pieces of legislation which includes the Electoral Commission Act, 51 of 1996, the Electoral Act, 73 of 1998, and the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act, 27 of 2000. Section 5 of the Electoral Commission Act mandates the IEC to continuously review legislation and propose amendments to the electoral legislation to make the appropriate recommendations regarding the process. It is also the duty of the IEC to ensure that South Africa’s legislative framework for the election retains its relevance, applicability, and validity in the ever-changing electoral landscape. The amendments to the electoral process are to ensure a smooth management process through which the elections are conducted. The purpose of the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill is to align the relevant provisions of the legislation by effecting technical improvements relating to the national and provincial elections, including the 2021 local government elections. The main objective of the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill is to enhance the existing legislative mechanisms that ensure free and fair elections, in accordance with the Constitution. The other objective relates to aligning the Electoral Act with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 4 of 2013, regarding the protection of the personal information of voters against unreasonable disclosure. The IEC has held extensive consultative processes with the national sphere of government and the Information Regulator regarding the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill. The IEC engaged with the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs and responded to over 12 000 written submissions received through the Dear South Africa-website. There was a further 28 submissions received through other stakeholders.

Members expressed concerns regarding the safeguarding of the data on the voters’ roll and how the changes to provincial legislatures will affect the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). Members asked how the IEC’s amendments to the electoral legislation respond to the judgment of the Constitutional Court. The IEC was badly exposed in the judgment regarding the issue of securing sufficient particulars of voters and ensuring that addresses are listed. The Constitutional Court indicated that the IEC is not satisfying the requirement of section 190 of the Constitution to ensure free and fair elections that protects voters. If the credibility of the elections is in question, then the issue speaks to the heart of what the country stands for in its constitutional values. How will the IEC ensure transparency when the Chief Electoral Officer chooses to redact information from the voters’ roll? The protection of the voters’ personal information against unreasonable disclosure is an important aspect, and the Committee is content to see that progress is being made to align the electoral legislation with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act. Members asked if the procedures around voters voting outside of their voting districts are sufficient to ensure that everyone is only able to vote once to protect the credibility of the election processes.

It was noted the meeting was the beginning of the process, and that the Committee will embark on a process of public consultations and further engagements with the IEC. Ensuring adequate public participation processes is the responsibility of the Committee. The Committee will not compromise any of the procedures that are required to ensure that the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill is processed in the prescribed manner and in line with the Constitution. The public must be given sufficient time until 22 January 2021 to make the necessary submissions, in line with the upcoming festive period. The Committee will convene a meeting to consider the submissions made at the end of January 2021.

provided by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group