Zuma could dribble past EFF

2015-02-08 15:00

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The anticipated drama at the opening of Parliament on Thursday could fizzle out if the Speaker allows the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to ask questions of President Jacob Zuma and he actually gives a proper response.

A big question mark hangs over whether the president will be able to deliver his annual state of the nation address without interruption after the EFF threatened to disrupt it if he did not answer its question about when he will pay back the money for Nkandla.

Much attention has been focused on whether the EFF will rise on a point of order or to ask a question of the president.

In a new twist this week, it appears senior ANC MPs had suggested in a meeting, which was held in Parliament last week, that the president should prepare a response to a question about paying back part of the money spent on non-security upgrades at his Nkandla homestead.

Two ANC members who were part of the meeting said this was a suggestion in the strategic meeting, which was attended by the presiding officers.

“The suggestion was, ‘Let the boys ask the question and the president should give an answer so Parliament can move on and the president can proceed with his speech in peace.’

“The thinking was that if he answers the question from the first EFF MP, the other MPs cannot ask the same question or about the same issue as it would have been addressed the first time,” said an ANC insider.

Another source confirmed that this suggestion was made, but there was also a view that Zuma should not answer questions because there would be an occasion for this next month.

This comes a week after the ANC in Parliament abandoned its plans to speedily introduce a new rule that would have barred MPs from rising on a point of order or asking a question of Zuma during his address.

This was due to cumbersome parliamentary procedures that require a sitting of the relevant House to adopt a newly introduced rule.

The EFF, whose MPs were elected to Parliament for the first time in May last year, has threatened to “disrupt” the address by demanding that Zuma answer a question about Nkandla.

If this happens, it will be the first time in 20 years that the president’s address is interrupted.

EFF leader Julius Malema has publicly said that as soon as Zuma begins his address; he will rise from his seat on a point of order.

He will then ask the president: “When are you paying back the money?” as recommended by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in her report titled Secure in Comfort.

The rules of Parliament do not stop MPs from rising on a point of order or from asking a question during a joint sitting of Parliament.

Rule 14 (c) of the joint rules of Parliament, which regulates joint sittings like the state of the nation address, states: No member shall interrupt another member while speaking except to call attention to a point of order or a question of privilege.

The rules are silent on whether a president can be interrupted because they are not members of Parliament.

This could be our state of the nation address

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