EFF can question Zuma

2015-02-01 15:00

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The ANC has given up its fight to introduce new rules that would have barred EFF members from interrupting President Jacob Zuma during the forthcoming state of the nation address (Sona).

Cumbersome parliamentary procedures and an anxiety not to be seen to be panicking over the EFF’s threats led the party to cancel a joint rules committee meeting on Friday, which would have approved the new rules that include barring MPs from questioning the president during the Sona.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen also confirmed that various opposition parties, excluding the EFF, had met Speaker Baleka Mbete informally on Thursday and highlighted the problems with pursuing new rules aimed at one political party.

“The opposition parties expressed unhappiness to the Speaker about the fact that the rules were being made before the Sona saying that you don’t make rules of single application, but should make rules of general application.

“We said it wouldn’t be a good idea to convene a special sitting to adopt rules directed at the EFF before the Sona. We said to her, ‘If you can do that, then you can bring the president to come and answer questions,’” said Steenhuisen.

The efforts to speedily amend the rules to ensure there was an express rule barring MPs from asking a question of the president, or rising on a point of order during the Sona fell flat as parliamentary procedures require new rules to be adopted by a sitting of the relevant House.

Earlier this week, the ANC had proposed a new rule which reads: No member may interrupt the President whilst speaking during the annual State of the Nation Address

- to call attention to a point of order or a question of privilege, or

- to request permission to put a question to the President.

This proposed rule was distributed to MPs who sit in the National Assembly rules subcommittee on Wednesday to study it. There was meant to have been another meeting of the full joint rules committee on Friday, to approve the proposed rules. However, that meeting did not happen.

Opposition MPs and parliamentary staff were informed of the cancellation late on Thursday without any reasons given.

City Press has reliably learnt that ANC MPs who sit in the rules committees were invited to a meeting of an ANC study group scheduled for 6pm on Thursday, which was being held to prepare for the joint rules committee the following morning.

Two ANC MPs who attended the study group meeting told the City Press that the study group was informed that the party would not go ahead with its proposal because it would be almost impossible to adopt the proposed rule before SONA – as proposed rules have to be adopted by a plenary sitting.

The MPs who spoke to the City Press separately said with Mbete having declined the EFF’s request to convene a special sitting before SONA, it was decided that it would look bad if the presiding officers suddenly convened a special sitting before SONA to have the new rules approved.

Another well-placed source said the party realised if it went ahead with the new proposal, it would look like it was panicking.

The ANC came to this realisation on Thursday afternoon after flying some of its MPs to Cape Town to attend a meeting of the party’s study group.

The meeting went ahead, but it did not discuss party strategy and focused on informing MPs of the cancellation.

EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu said it was evident the ANC was desperately introducing the new rule in the joint sitting of Parliament because it wanted to protect Zuma from answering questions.

“We have recurrently cautioned that rules and regulations should be made with the intention of preserving the durability and constitutional vitality of the National Assembly – and not to suit the narrow interests of the ruling party,” he said.

The DA’s Natasha Michael, who sits in the National Assembly and the joint rules subcommittee, said the rules of Parliament were very clear that any person on the floor of Parliament should subject themselves to its rules – this included the president, even though he was not an MP.

The EFF has threatened to use parliamentary rules – such as rising on a point of order to ask the Speaker for permission to pose a question to the president – to interrupt Zuma during the Sona on February 12.

Secretaries of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces told journalists last month there was no rule stopping an MP from posing a question to the president during the Sona, though this had never happened before.

Mbete’s spokesperson, Mandlakazi Sigcawu, said Friday’s meeting was cancelled because Mbete felt “it is not a process that should be rushed”.

“She felt there needed to be a due parliamentary process to be followed and proper consultation.”

Earlier in the week, the ANC in Parliament proposed a new rule to ban the wearing of overalls, gumboots and hard hats by MPs in the House.

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