DA in court bid to force Parliament to find venues to conduct its work

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A general view of the damages caused by the Parliament fire.
A general view of the damages caused by the Parliament fire.
Photo by Gallo Images/Misha Jordaan
  • It has been 10 months since a fire destroyed the National Assembly building on 2 January.
  • Now, the DA is heading to court to challenge Parliament's inability to find suitable venues.
  • According to the official opposition, not much has been done to hold to account those responsible.

The DA is set to legally challenge Parliament's decision to not find suitable venues after the devastating January fire.

According to the DA, little to no work has been done to investigate and hold to account the people responsible.

"It has been over 10 months since the fire that gutted Parliament," said DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube.

On Monday, party bosses presented their year in review of the work done in Parliament.

"This is why we have taken the decision to refer Parliament's refusal to find alternative venues for the institution to conduct its work – while the rebuilding is set to commence – to our lawyers for review and challenging.

"We believe that this decision is in direct contravention of Sections 59 and 72 of the Constitution, which force both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces – respectively – to facilitate public involvement in the processes of the Assembly, committees and conduct its business in a manner that is accessible to the public," Gwarube said.

READ | DA submits motion of no confidence against its own member in Western Cape legislature

In addition to this, Chapter 4, part 4, of the National Assembly Rules places the responsibility for ensuring public access and participation in the business of Parliament firmly with the Speaker.

"Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is responsible – as per the rules – to ensure that the institution gives effect to the Constitution. We have given this process almost a year; it is clear that the ANC is only too happy to have Parliament's oversight mechanisms hamstrung. That is why we will seek to approach the courts. For South Africa to work, Parliament must work optimally," Gwarube said.

Parliamentary meetings have, in the main, been held on virtual platforms, while some, like the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, have recently opted for physical, in-person meetings.

The virtual meetings were implemented in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the destruction of the National Assembly building saw the online system's continued use.

Siviwe Gwarube
DA MP Siviwe Gwarube.
News24 Jan Gerber

According to Gwarube, progress should have been made to find suitable, alternative venues for Parliament and its committees to convene.

"The Good Hope Chamber, which has been a stop-gap measure, cannot be the way that Parliament conducts its business. The chamber can only accommodate 120 of the 400 members. Of our 84 members of the National Assembly, only 19 are accommodated as the official opposition," she said.

Other political parties have far less representation in the Good Hope Chamber.

"Many committees – which are meant to be the engine-room for the business of Parliament – meet online, which is less than optimal, and is exclusionary to most South Africans who wish to follow the work done here," she said.

READ | DA's lawyers write to correctional services demanding Zuma be back behind bars by 17:00 on Friday

Gwarube said there was a misconception that Parliament belonged to politicians.

"It belongs to the people who have sent us here to serve them. The business of Parliament must directly reflect the issues facing many South Africans. It cannot be a detached institution that is not fulfilling its constitutional mandate," she said.

In October, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced that R2 billion would be set aside to restore the parliamentary buildings.

Parliament will also receive an allocation of R118 million for unforeseen and unavoidable expenditure, as a result of the impact of both the fire and Covid-19 on the operations of Parliament.

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