Committee erred, ConCourt hears

2013-03-28 21:04
The Constitutional Court (Picture: Sapa)

The Constitutional Court (Picture: Sapa)

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Johannesburg - The failure of Parliament's programme committee to schedule a motion of no confidence for debate was unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court heard on Thursday.

"What we are seeking is a declaratory that what occurred, which was the failure to schedule a motion of no confidence as lodged on 18 November for debate within a reasonable time, was inconsistent with the Constitution," said Anton Katz, for DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.

Katz said the programme committee, which met on 15 November, did not deal with the application made by the Democratic Alliance.

"They described it as frivolous," Katz said.

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke questioned Katz on what he wanted the Constitutional Court to do for his client.

"If you were to be direct, what is it exactly that this court can do to resolve your problem, in very simple language," said Moseneke.

"Make your submission in a language that even a lay person can understand.

"Are you asking us to direct the Speaker [of Parliament], are you asking us to order Parliament to have a motion tabled before it? What exactly do you want from us in direct and simple language to understand?"

Katz replied: "Declare that what happened was unconstitutional."

Katz said the Western Cape High Court in its ruling had said there were gaps in the rules that governed Parliament's programme committee.

However, the High Court said it did not have jurisdiction to order Parliament to correct this.

The DA wanted Parliament to debate a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma in November 2012.

Parliament's programme committee schedules the work and business to be dealt with in Parliament.

Unfairly treated

In a statement released on Thursday the ANC said: "We hold firmly to our view that this matter should not have been brought to court, as in our view it is a political dispute that can be resolved by parties within Parliament."

The judiciary should not be placed in the uncomfortable position of interfering in the internal affairs of an independent arm of the state or of baby-sitting Parliament, the African National Congress said.

Jan Heunis for the Speaker of Parliament, Max Sisulu - the first respondent - said his client had been unfairly treated by the applicants.

"The applicant and those who support her application has done the national assembly a great disservice by targeting the Speaker on the outset in this matter in the manner, evidenced by the papers filed on record," he said.

Moseneke asked Heunis if there was a gap in the rules which governed the functioning of Parliament’s programme committee.

"Yes with respect, I submit that there is," answered Heunis.

The majority of the members of Parliament’s programme committee were opposition party representatives and not ruling party members.

Heunis told the court that the programme committee functioned by way of consensus.

"The rules do not deal adequately with how motions of no confidence should be scheduled and therefore the Speaker by way of immediate response... will refer the matter to the rules committee for it to attend to it so that the rules can be amended to make appropriate provision," he said.

Heunis said Parliament was attending to the matter of gaps in the rules of the programme committee, and thus the application made by the DA had to be dismissed by the court.

"Parliament is attending to it. The court should not... interfere, I use that word very respectfully, with the business of Parliament in circumstances where Parliament is not taking issue with what is required of it in the circumstances of the matter," he said.

Judgment was reserved.

Read more on:    da  |  lindiwe mazibuko  |  max sisulu  |  politics

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