Bela Bill faces public scrutiny - NCOP reviews education legislation amid outcry

Parliament is expected to finalise the Bela Bill. File Picture

Parliament is expected to finalise the Bela Bill. File Picture

Published Apr 18, 2024


Members of the National Council of Provinces' Select Committee on Education and Technology have been called to review submissions and objections concerning the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill.

The committee, which convened on Thursday, is meticulously examining the bill, adopting it clause by clause.

Parliament's legal advisers have previously highlighted several contentious clauses, drawing scrutiny from the public.

Despite widespread objections to the bill, the committee must still consider these viewpoints.

Phumelele Ngema, a legal adviser for Parliament, raised concerns about public participation and the adherence to legal processes required by law.

This came to light after it was revealed that many submissions opposed certain provisions of the bill.

Ngema emphasised that the bill must comply with legal standards to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

The bill, having been approved by the National Assembly, is now under the NCOP's review.

Ngema also noted procedural issues concerning public hearings and mentioned various judgments that should guide public engagement, aligning with constitutional mandates.

Parliamentarians are urged to engage comprehensively with the public, ensuring that their views are heard and considered without pre-empting the legislative process.

Public hearings must be conducted thoroughly and reasonably.

Ngema questioned the interpretation of statements claiming "overwhelming objection" to the bill, probing who assesses such rejections when submissions lack substantive justification.

She referenced the Bill of Rights, which guarantees everyone the right to education, and highlighted concerns that the Bela Bill may not align with existing laws.

The committee is tasked with determining whether the department of basic education, the National Assembly, and the NCOP have met their legal and constitutional obligations.

"If you look at section 29, it speaks to everyone. Everyone has the right to basic education, inclusive of all forms of needs and ages, and to receive education in their preferred language at public institutions," Ngema explained.

"This raises a rhetorical question: Who must enforce this right? Clearly, section 29 mandates that this is the state's responsibility in public educational institutions."

Ngema reaffirmed that all rights afforded to children are paramount, and clarified that section 29 guarantees everyone the right to basic education and to receive education in their language of choice.

The Bela Bill is an amendment bill, not new legislation. It aims to amend the Schools Act and the Educators Act.

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