Impeachment rules to be decided after SONA

(File)
(File)

Cape Town - Parliament has taken a step closer to finalising the process to impeach a sitting president - one week before President Jacob Zuma is due to deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The joint rules committee on Thursday agreed to give its caucuses two weeks to consider two proposals currently before it.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete said she would also send the proposals to a constitutional law expert for legal scrutiny.

The joint committee met for the first time this year to debate the proposed options, after its subcommittee delved into the nitty-gritty over the past few weeks.

The two options the subcommittee developed were:

  • a "hybrid" committee of 39 MPs, assisted by a panel of legal experts; or
  • a panel of five retired judges.

The majority of parties present supported the first option.

The ANC, DA and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) expressed unease in delegating Parliament's powers to an outside panel.

"We appoint the president, we should remove the president," said IFP chief whip Narend Singh.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the stakes were very high in the case of an impeachment and could be subject to outside influence.

The Economic Freedom Fighters. however, felt that, in order to be consistent with the Constitutional Court's directive, impartial retired judges would be best placed to handle the facts free of politics.

Proportional representation

The biggest sticking point for option one is whether the committee should be proportionally represented.

The Constitutional Court ordered that a prima facie case of misconduct warranting an inquiry, should not be subjected to arbitrary rejection by a majority party.

The ANC, having initially "reserved their judgment" on the idea of proportional representation, has now stated its desire for proportional representation on the committee.

Its caucus believes all parliamentary committees should be constituted with proportional representation, as dictated by Rule 154 of the National Assembly rules.

Opposition parties believe the committee should have one representative per party on an inquiry panel, to be consistent with the Constitutional Court's directive.

A compromise will likely be reached where the process will be set up in two phases; a preliminary probe free of proportional representation, and - if grounds for impeachment are established - a formal inquiry, but with proportional representation.

Mbete also said she would "consider" the EFF's request to send the proposals to a retired Constitutional Court judge for input as well.

The committee hopes to have the process finalised before the last House sitting this term on March 15.

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