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BELA delayed again: Postponement raises questions

It is not clear why the tabling of the final and complete Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill in the parliamentary Portfolio Committee, scheduled for today, was suddenly postponed.

The briefing of the Portfolio Committee would have been the last step in the committee phase and the sudden postponement raises doubts about whether this Bill will ever be passed as law.

After a long-drawn-out process, all changes that have to be made to the Bill based on the public participation process and committee meetings were presented to the Portfolio Committee last week.

One news channel interpreted the amendments to clause 4 and 5 as a U-turn by government, seeing as provincial department heads will apparently not have the final say about schools’ language and admission policies.

The interpretation was, however, erroneous because the concession was merely that all such policies no longer need to be submitted to provincial departments. In the case of a dispute, the final decision still lies with the head of the department.

There are, however, still some institutions willing to take the matter to court.

If the Portfolio Committee gives the green light, the Bill will be tabled in the National Assembly (NA) and once it is adopted, the provincial legislatures will have the opportunity to consider it.

After that it will be referred to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) – the last step before the President signs it.

The time for these processes is limited. There is only one parliamentary term left this year and one next year before the general elections are expected to take place in May 2024.

It is reasonable to expect that, if the ANC is confident about the Bill’s constitutionality, it will waste no time in finalising these processes.

If the elections take place before everything is finalised, though, the entire process will have to start all over again.

The FF Plus has been opposing this Bill from the outset. Apart from the practical implications, the Bill represents a break with the 1994 agreement of which community-run schools were an essential part.

After countless hours were spent on the Bill over the past weeks, both in and outside of the Portfolio Committee, the sudden feet dragging comes as a surprise.

Initially, it was assumed that the BELA Bill would be an important component of the ANC’s election campaign. The party could have used it to prove its commitment to education.

But now the question is whether it might have the opposite effect if the Constitutional Court were to rule against it shortly before the elections.

Meanwhile, the FF Plus wants to encourage all school governing bodies to fulfil their governance task thoroughly and with commitment. It is the most important argument against being stripped of their powers.

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