Order, yes?...?but private guards a step too far

2015-01-25 15:00

It is a sign of the times when Parliament discusses employing burly security personnel to keep an eye on rowdy MPs in the National Assembly and eject those who refuse to comply with the rulings of the Speaker.

The ANC and opposition parties have in principle agreed to explore the idea of employing a private security company to maintain order in the House. Last year, police were called in on two occasions to remove Economic Freedom Fighters MPs who defied orders by presiding officers to vacate their seats following spats over upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence.

Following that episode, all parties agree, and rightfully so, that it was not ideal for the police – which falls under a separate arm of the state – to forcefully remove MPs from the seats they were elected to occupy, no matter what their misdemeanour.

Apart from bringing private guards into the House, the parties are also mulling the possible banning of hand gestures that may be considered rude or inappropriate; limiting motions to just 20 minutes; and taking away from ordinary MPs the right to raise points of order and giving this right exclusively to party whips.

Although the changes have been suggested by a subcommittee of the rules committee, and still need the green light from a full meeting of the committee and the National Assembly before being adopted, they are at first glance highly problematic.

Maintaining order in Parliament should be a priority, but not at the expense of democratic practices. Employing guards to throw out MPs, limiting motions and banning hand gestures are draconian measures akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes, parliamentary decorum and order must prevail, but severely curtailing freedom of expression and threatening MPs with musclemen is unwise and self-defeating.

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