Strengthening Parliament's oversight role during international trade negotiations: A grounded theory approach

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (hereafter referred to as "the Constitution"), outlines the different roles and functions of the arms of government, namely the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature. In terms of international agreements, Section 231 of the Constitution provides the parameters within which the Executive and the Legislature are responsible for when entering into international agreements. The Executive is responsible for negotiating and signing all international agreements, which must then be approved by the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces in order to be ratified. Furthermore, the Constitution requires the Legislature to oversee the work of the Executive. In this regard, Parliament, as the representative of the people of South Africa, has a duty to ensure that even international agreements will benefit the citizenry and not undermine national objectives. However, due to the democratic principle of separation of powers, Parliament has little control over the outcomes of the negotiations which the Executive undertakes on behalf of the nation. Signed international agreements may not always be in the national interest. In these instances, Parliament cannot alter the terms of the agreement. It can at best approve this for ratification with reservations or reject it once it has been tabled. Several challenges arise in relation to the approval for ratification of international agreements. This is primarily related to Parliament's capacity and the time available to consider signed agreements, and its knowledge and understanding of the content and implications of international agreements. This study, therefore, considers how Parliament can effectively oversee developments during international trade negotiations. This is to circumvent situations where the trade agreements do not support national strategic objectives. A grounded theory approach was used to develop a theory on how to strengthen Parliament's oversight role during international trade negotiations. Grounded theory is a qualitative research method, which uses a mainly inductive approach. Data was gathered through conversational interviewing with a number of stakeholders such as Members of Parliament and parliamentary officials, as well as technical and nontechnical literature. These were analysed to develop key concepts or variables. Next, a literature review was conducted to determine the parent body of knowledge within which the research study falls. This process yielded further variables. It also assisted in determining the linkages between the key concepts. Finally, I undertook a theory building process to determine the relationships between the key concepts and the key concern variable. From the analysis, this study proposes that the Executive and Members of Parliament need to understand the importance and relevance of holding the Executive accountable for its actions in relation to international trade negotiations. Once this is clearly established, there will be an incentive to develop institutional capacity to perform oversight over this type of Executive action. This enhanced capacity will lead to more effective oversight over the Executive's involvement during international trade negotiations and thus greater accountability by the Executive to ensure that these negotiations support national strategic objectives.