ANC wants special rules for Sona

2015-02-15 15:01

Parliament could have a whole new set of rules when President Jacob Zuma presents his state of the nation address (Sona) next year.

City Press has heard the ANC is considering new rules that will only apply to Sona, as some of the party’s senior MPs feel the current joint rules of Parliament, which regulate joint sittings such as Sona, are not sufficient.

This follows the interruption of Zuma’s speech on Thursday evening by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the DA, the Freedom Front Plus and an ANC MP – who rose on points of order or wanted to ask questions of privilege.

The ANC tried but failed last month to speedily amend the joint rules to ensure there was an express rule barring MPs from asking the president a question or rising on a point of order during Sona.

But this fell flat, as parliamentary procedures require new rules to be adopted by a sitting of the relevant House.

The ANC also did not want to be seen to be panicking about the EFF’s threats to disrupt Zuma’s speech.

Opposition parties told National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete they would not be part of a process to push through rules before Sona that were aimed at one political party.

The proposed rule had read: “No member may interrupt the president while 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.”

After this week’s chaotic Sona, three ANC sources said the chaos could have been avoided if Sona had specific rules that barred MPs from asking questions or rising on points of order.

“Sona is not a parliamentary event; it’s a state event convened by the head of state. There were no rules to deal with the chaos. The rules don’t even begin to speak to that event,” said an ANC MP who sits on Parliament’s rules committee.

The MP said because Sona brought the three arms of state under one roof, was convened by the president and was an event in which the three spheres of government were represented, it could not be treated as an ordinary joint sitting where the joint rules applied.

ANC parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo, however, said the present rules covered any eventuality and their fair and firm application on Thursday had been a good example of this.

“However, that doesn’t mean they may not be tightened up in future. Rules, by nature, are not static but continually evolving,” he said.

“All rules are subject to continuous amendment to ensure they remain relevant and up to date.”

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said Parliament did not need new rules for Sona, as it was an ordinary sitting, which he said the ANC was trying to turn into an extraordinary sitting.

He said it was bad practice to make rules for specific occasions instead of for general application, which were consistent and flowed through the entire processes of Parliament.

Steenhuisen said the DA would challenge the changes if the ANC proposed them, as they would amount to a fundamental violation of the rights of MPs.

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