Motions of No Confidence in the National Assembly Rules

Rules of the National Assembly

22 February 2013
Chairperson: Mr M Sisulu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Rules Committee of the National Assembly reached consensus and adopted the minutes of 7 November 2012, however there was discussion among the Members about the content of the minutes and why it was that some important views of the Opposition parties were not reflected in the minutes. After lengthy deliberations, it was agreed that changes to the minutes would be considered. However, in the first half of the meeting a quorum of 23 Members was not reached, therefore no decisions were taken until the quorum was reached.

The discussion on the measures to make appropriate provisions for Motions of No Confidence in the rules of the National Assembly was a heated debate. A representative from the African National Congress (ANC) as well as a representative from the joint Opposition parties (DA, COPE, IFP, FF+,ID) presented their proposals on the matter of motions of no confidence in the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the President. The proposal from the ANC which suggested that the Speaker did not need to consult any Members was unacceptable to the Opposition parties. As no consensus was reached, the Chairperson proposed that the matter be referred to the Sub Committee on Rules for further deliberation, and that parties discuss further options for consideration, so that when the Members met again on the 7 March 2012 there could be a way forward on the matter.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson stated that as the number of Members present did not meet the quorum, consequently no formal decisions would be considered until a quorum of 23 Members was reached.

Adoption of minutes dated 07 November 2012
The first item on the agenda was the adoption of the minutes dated 07 November 2012.

Dr O Ambrosini (IFP) argued that in the decision made by the Members about the Constitutional Judgement, he requested for his contributions be added to the minutes as they were not reflected.

Mr J Jeffery (ANC) replied that Dr Ambrosini arrived very late during that meeting

Mr De Lange (FF+) wondered whether minutes were for capturing significant events during a meeting or whether they captured every single Member’s discussion.

Ms D Killian (COPE) argued that Dr Ambrosini was present in that meeting even though he arrived late and that so his views should be inserted as the views of minority Members had to be acknowledged as well.

Dr Ambrosini stated that an important statement that he made during that discussion had been omitted from the minutes, and there was no reason for the Committee not acknowledge and reflect them in the minutes.

The Chairperson suggested that the Committee not dwell too much on discussing this matter, seeing that there were other issues that Members needed to attend to.

Mr Jeffery replied that Dr Ambrosini arrived after the decision was taken, and that the minutes should reflect that Dr Ambrosini arrived late - seeing that they currently reflected that he was present throughout the discussion, and suggested that video tapes be looked at in this regard.

Ms Killian stated that on page eight, the third paragraph from the top had a language error, which reflected both the words ‘asked’ and ‘reflected’ and suggested that one of them be removed.

The Chairperson suggested that Members looked at the video recording and make a decision

Ms Killian stated that there was no need for Members to look at the video tape, but that Dr Ambrosini’s views were reflected on the minutes, as they raised a concern about the interim suggestion.

Mr Jeffery replied that Dr Ambrosini arrived after the objections were noted

The Chairperson stated that all comments were noted but the minutes would not be adopted until a quorum was reached

Matters arising
Mr Watson (DA) drew attention to page two, stating that it reflected that the Committee would have a workshop in early 2013 and wondered when it would be held.

The reply was that discussions with the Office of the Deputy Speaker were currently underway and the week of the 24 March 2013 was proposed as the date for the workshop.

The Chairperson stated that further communication on this would be sent to all Members at a later stage

A Committee Member made a proposal that the matter on electronic devices be referred to the Sub Committee on Rules which was charged by the Rules Committee to deal with consultation with the National Assembly.

The Chairperson acknowledged and noted all comments and corrections.

Measures for appropriate provision for Motion of No Confidence in National Assembly Rules
The Chairperson proposed that the order of the discussion would be that the parties would all read out their submissions to Members present.

ANC proposals
Mr Jeffrey presented the ANC’s report and argued that motions of no confidence could be accommodated under Rule 103, and that the motions of no confidence in the Speaker and Deputy Speaker as reflected in Section 52.4 of the South African Constitution were also covered. The crux of the proposal was that the current power in terms of the rules was that the Chief Whip dealt with the programme of Parliament. Therefore if Members had any urgent public matter they wanted to discuss in the House, they should approach the Speaker. Therefore the ANC proposed that the same procedure be applied to motions of no confidence, meaning that the Speaker would be consulted for consideration of such a motion. The reasoning behind this proposal was that it would prevent Members of Parliament from disrupting the business of the National Assembly.

Dr Ambrosini replied that ANC submission was completely out of context from the Committee’s previous discussion and that the meaning of the ANC document was not clear. He noted that the Speaker was the ultimate sign of democracy in Parliament and should not be part of controversial party bickering and should rather represent the whole of Parliament and all political parties.

Ms Killian stated that in the previous Sub Committee meeting, all Members had participated and it was agreed that rules would be written in such a way that democracy was strengthened, regardless of which party had the majority vote; government therefore needed to be held accountable. The neglect by Members of majoritarian principles was of concern as well. She asked Mr Jeffrey to relay where in the Constitution he cited information on principles of majoritarian rule. She said it was not up to the ruling party to decide when a motion of no confidence was to be discussed.

Mr Watson reiterated that the document presented by the ANC added no value to the present discussion of the Committee, and that the Speaker was given too much power, which was detrimental to the principles of democracy. The document was also deemed inconsistent, with no timelines and too many loopholes, and that the role of the Programme Committee was ignored.

Mr Jeffrey responded that the Subcommittee on Rules had taken no decision and reached no agreements, and that it was not an unfettered right for the Speaker to discuss and make decisions on motions of no confidence. The issues of majoritarianism were the bases of democracy and were in the Constitution.

Ms M Kubayi (ANC) stated that issue of motions of no confidence were not new, there were procedures in Parliament, but Members do reach a deadlock. It was also acknowledged that it was only the Constitutional Court which could make an ultimate ruling on a motion of no confidence. The ANC was not opposed to setting up deadlines.

Adv A Gaum (ANC) drew attention to the fact that the Speaker would be deciding in consultation with political parties before ruling on a motion of no confidence, even though the majority would have the final say. However it seemed that the ANC was not happy with this and also wanted to influence the motion of no confidence where the Speaker was given unlimited power on all decisions. Therefore the proposal from the ANC which suggested that the Speaker did not need to consult any Members was unacceptable.

The Chairperson proposed that the joint proposal from Opposition parties be heard.

Joint proposal from Opposition parties
Mr Watson began by stating that Opposition never said that agreements had been reached. The crux of the proposal was that any Member could move a motion of no confidence in the President or in the Cabinet. The Member must give notice of the motion in the House and deliver a signed copy to the Table, the Speaker then must schedule for such a motion for consideration within seven days. And it must be decided in a secret ballot whether the motion was granted or not.

Dr Ambrosini stated that the content of the ANC document was unfounded, and that the Constitution did not allow for the Speaker to rule over motions of no confidence.

The Chairperson noted that quorum had been reached and suggested that the Members move towards adopting the minutes.

Ms Killian made two suggestions; one that the minutes from the last meeting be looked at. It was pointed out that motions of no confidence cannot be a regular occurrence as it was a procedural matter.

The Chairperson said that a way forward should be reached on all matters discussed.

Adv Gaum agreed that the Speaker needed to consult with the Chief Whip and the ANC was not undermining that. The Constitution did not limit voting on a matter of no confidence to be by secret ballot only.

Mr M Motlekga, Chief Whip (ANC) argued that Parliament was a forum for the consideration of national issues and the Speaker would be the most competent person to drive national interests by deciding on motions of no confidence. The Speaker was being reduced to a puppet by the Opposition. Since the Speaker was elected by the National Assembly, one should show confidence in the Speaker. 

Mr Jeffrey argued that the proposal of the Opposition put severe restrictions on Members for having motions of no confidence debated. Attention was directed to the procedural complications in drafting a motion of no confidence. He asked how a secret ballot could be transparent, as was stated in the Opposition’s proposal. Also the Speaker did not have powers of veto, and would still be consulting with the Chief Whip.

The Chairperson proposed that the matter be taken to Sub Committee on Rules and the Committee reconvene on the 07 March 2012 to finalise the matter

Dr Ambrosini replied that 7 March was not a suitable date for the IFP.

Mr M Mdakane (ANC) stated that the matter be taken to the Sub Committee on Rules.

Mr Jeffrey stated that parties need to have further discussion about their proposals, so that when they meet again they present better options.

The Chairperson requested that by the 7 March, Members should have some clarity about the proposals and a way forward needed to be agreed upon. The Sub Committee on Rules needed to get together and build on all the options proposed. A report on the progress made on the motion of no confidence would be distributed to Members and would be discussed in the next meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

The following Members submitted their apologies: Ms K Magau (ANC), Adv M Malale (ANC), Mrs C September (ANC), Ms S Kaylan (DA), Mr E Marais (DA), Mr J Van der Merwe (IFP), Mr L Greyling (ID).


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