EFF's Sona plans disregard Parliamentary rules

By Drum Digital
14 January 2015

The EFF's threat to ask President Jacob Zuma questions about Nkandla during his state-of-the-nation speech will flout the rules of Parliament, officials said on Wednesday.

Masibulele Xaso, secretary to the National Assembly, conceded to a media workshop that the joint rules of Parliament were silent on the eventuality of MPs putting questions to the president during his address.

"There are no rules in the rules dealing with questions to the president," he said, but hastened to add that, in terms of the Constitution and the rule book, the address was made in a joint sitting called by the president to deal with a particular issue.

"In the main, the joint sitting is an extraordinary sitting called in terms of the Constitution to enable the president in general to deliver the state-of-the-nation address and no other business is dealt with in that joint sitting.

"There has never been an occasion where there were questions in a joint sitting or where there were points of order in the joint sitting," he said.

This had become convention, Xaso said, and such conventions were part of what governed the running of Parliament.

"The conventions crystallise into what may be referred to as the standing orders, and that convention has crystallised into what may be referred to as a standing order."

This suggested that the presiding officer, who is the chair when Zuma delivers his speech on February 12, would apply it with the force of a rule.

Xaso suggested the Speaker could invoke rule 13 of the joint rules, which state that no MP may speak during the sitting unless given permission by the presiding officer during, or prior to, the meeting.

Speaker Baleka Mbete on Tuesday wrote to EFF leader Julius Malema urging his party to "desist" from raising questions during the address. He threatened in writing to do so if Zuma failed to call a special sitting before that date to respond to questions from MPs.

Most possible scenarios raised by the media in the workshop, in case the EFF failed to heed her warning, have already transpired in sittings last year.

On August 21, EFF MPs interrupted Zuma when he was answering a question on Nkandla and chanted in unison "pay back the money", referring to funds misspent on his homestead.

That led to Malema and 11 of his MPs being suspended from Parliament late last year without pay for two to four weeks.

In mid-November, riot police entered the National Assembly to remove EFF MP Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela after she called Zuma a thief and defied orders to leave the podium and the chamber.

Mbete said in her letter this week that MPs could raise matters in the debate following on the president's address.

But Xaso acknowledged that there was no precedent either for the president taking questions during his response to the debate, three days after his address, should the EFF try to seize that opportunity to question.

With regard to the possibility of MPs raising points of order during the opening, he stressed that these must relate to matters of procedure, or they would not be entertained.

"In a sense there will be what you call valid points of order and invalid points of order, so in terms of what point of order may arise or not arise one will not be able to expand beyond saying that a point of order has to relate of a point of procedure.

"It must be a procedure relating to that specific sitting."

He stressed that in terms of section 14 (g) of the rules, the Speaker had the right to order an MP disrupting the sitting or showing contempt for the rules, to leave the chamber immediately.

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