Parliament enlists police to evict MPs

2015-07-26 17:00
Members of the EFF are taken out of Parliament during the president’s state of the nation address earlier this year. PHOTO: Lerato Maduna

Members of the EFF are taken out of Parliament during the president’s state of the nation address earlier this year. PHOTO: Lerato Maduna

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City Press can reveal that parliament has recruited active police officers to become part of its parliamentary protection services – to enforce a new rule that will see disruptive MPs being forcefully removed from the House.

On Friday, uniforms for the new cops were being bought only three days after Parliament’s subcommittee on rules resolved that no police would be called to the chamber. According to parliamentary sources, the officers started on Friday, while others say they will only begin on August 15.

Currently, police officers are only deployed to man the parliamentary gates and entrances to parliamentary building but are not allowed on the floor of the National Assembly.

The enlisting of police goes against a ruling by the Western Cape High Court, which barred the police from entering the chamber in May.

Opposition parties are hopping mad about the decision to deploy police, and say it offends the separation of powers because the police report to the police minister, who reports to Parliament.

Security sources reveal the project is code-named Project EFF – a reference to the containment of red-blooded Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs who have been at the forefront of defying Parliament’s presiding officers and have disrupted Parliament at least four times over the past year.

Parliament spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs confirmed on Friday that 22 police officers were being seconded to Parliament to beef up Parliament’s own protection services. He denied the code name.

Officers attended a meeting at Parliament’s imbizo centre on Friday, where they were briefed about their mandate.

“The interventions to strengthen Parliament’s security capacity to protect members of Parliament in discharging their constitutional responsibility was not a secret, but a matter of public knowledge,” said Jacobs.

In June, a multiparty National Assembly rules committee considered amendments that provide for the physical removal of members who participate in disruptions during proceedings of Parliament, he said.

“The intention, as stated by Speaker Baleka Mbete, is to enable Parliament to carry out its constitutional mandate in an orderly manner.

“There is broad agreement among the majority of political parties that when a member who participates in disruptive behaviour refuses to leave the chamber on the order of the presiding officer, the member should be physically removed by the parliamentary protection services.

“This additional function requires the current capacity of the parliamentary protection services be strengthened, said Jacobs.

A senior administrator at Parliament said the new cops would start work on August 15 – meaning standard human resource processes had been bypassed.

On Friday, Parliament was procuring their uniforms.

Jacobs said that police officers will wear the uniform worn by parliamentary protection officers because “it is a formal secondment to Parliament”.

“They are not coming as police, but they are coming as part of Parliament’s protection services,” he said.

Jacobs said the officers will remain on the payroll of the SA Police Service, but that the secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, will be in charge of the project [of protecting MPs rights] with a number of different people playing different roles.

The move to incorporate police into Parliament protections service undermines the process of the rules committee, which is still debating new proposals on rules. Agreements of that subcommittee have no standing until they are adopted by Parliament.

ANC MP Nyami Booi, the whip of the rules sub,committee, refused to comment on the recruitment of police, saying he only writes policy and is not involved in its implementation. Booi said he was not aware of what Parliament has implemented.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the secondment of the police to Parliament is contrary to the spirit of what had been negotiated in the rules committee, and to the principle of the separation of powers.

“We will not allow a deployment of SAPS to Parliament. A rose is still a rose by any other name,” said Steenhuisen.

“The only way we will accept that is if all those members resign from the SAPS and are then vetted properly. If they remain police officers seconded to Parliament, they remain accountable to the police minister, who in turn accounts to Parliament,” he said.

“It is white shirts: Part Two!” exclaimed Freedom Front Plus chief whip Corné Mulder, who also sits in the rules subcommittee.

He was referring to police who were dressed in white shirts and allowed to enter the national assembly to evict EFF MPs during the state of the nation address in February.

The full rules committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday.

And the days of MPs standing up to interrupt the Speaker of Parliament or ignoring her orders could be over as soon as next week, when a new rule is expected to take effect.

Parliament is set to adopt a rule that will see disruptive MPs thrown out of the House and removed from the precinct by the police if they resist removal by Parliament’s own protection personnel.

The National Assembly’s rules committee has fast-tracked the new rule to stop the fracas like the one on June 18, when President Jacob Zuma’s question and answer session had to be abandoned without the president uttering a word.

President Zuma is scheduled to return for another question and answer session on August 6.

The new rule proposes that “if a member resists attempts to be removed from the chamber … the sergeant at arms and the parliamentary protection services may use such force as may be reasonably necessary to overcome any resistance”.

Gone, too, are the days where parliamentary sittings are adjourned because of disruptions.

MPs this week said if a plenary session was suspended, it should only be for the purposes of removing disruptive MPs. Parliament should continue with its business afterwards.

“Adjourning the sitting means the disruptive members have won,” Booi said his week. Police will be called in to assist with the removal of MPs only if the MPs offer resistance to being removed from the precinct.

EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said no MP should be removed from Parliament under the direction of the presiding officers, unless due process had been followed.

This week, Parliament’s legal services agreed with his view.

Parliament’s Advocate Frank Jenkins said while the right of MPs to be MPs and their right to speak in Parliament was subject to the rules of Parliament, withholding their salaries and barring them from Parliament facilities like their offices may be illegal. 
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