What are committees of Parliament?

Committees are the places where members of the public can express their opinions directly and try to influence the outcome of Parliament's decisions. Their meetings are open to the public, although they may be closed if there is a very good reason to do so. They are the ‘engine’ of Parliament and play a vital role in the process of building democracy and facilitating public involvement. All Bills must be debated and passed by a vote in the House before they can become Acts. Committees are required to study legislation in detail so that comprehensive preliminary debate takes place before the legislation goes to the House for further debate and decision. The Standing Rules make provision for the establishment of two types of select committees, viz. standing select committees(also referred to as portfolio committees) and ad hoc select committees.

Standing select committees (portfolio committees)

Besides providing an avenue for debate, these committees also investigate matters of public importance, hold public hearings and receive submissions from the public. In this manner, the views of the people are taken into account before a Bill is passed in Parliament. Committee meetings are open to public and the public is encouraged to attend.

Ad hoc select committees

The difference between ad hoc select committees and standing select committees is that ad hoc select committees are appointed by resolution of the House to investigate specific issues or to carry out particular assignments. Unlike their more permanent counterparts, ad hoc select committees dissolve as soon as their investigation has been completed and reported on to the House on the specific matter referred to it. It is established for a specific purpose and with a limited life span. 

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 standing committees can do something about your concern. 

Key roles of Committees

Different kinds of Committees have one or more of the following functions:

a. Law making: Most of the work on Bills (proposed law) is done by the Standing Committees. The Committees discuss the Bills and it is only atthe committee stage that changes can be made. They consider Bills and amend them, and may initiate Bills.One of the functions of the WCPP is to make laws for the province. The Constitution says that provinces must be able to make their own laws because each province is different and may have its own needs. The laws that the Provincial Legislature can make, are defined in the Constitution. Of course, any law that WCPP makes only applies in the province; it is possible, in certain circumstances, for national Parliament to replace some of these laws.

b. Consult the public: The Standing Committees may decide to consult thepublic about a Bill. If it is an important Bill, public hearings are held and the public has the opportunity to submit input. They also examine specific areas of public life or matters of public interest.

c. Hold Provincial Government accountable: The Standing Committees monitor and oversee the work of provincial government departments and hold them accountable. They also hold annual hearings on the budget and focus on how the money is spent in each provincial government department. Committees can call on Members of the Provincial Cabinet (Provincial Ministers) and officials to report on their work at any time. If a Committee is concerned about a particular matter, it may even call an emergency hearing. They oversee the accounts of provincial government departments and state institutions and take care of domestic parliamentary issues.

d. Participate in budget process: The term "budget process" refers to the process followed by the Legislature when dealing with the annual provincial budget. The budget comes before WCPP in the form of a money Bill, called the Western Cape Appropriation Bill.