The Task Team met to review of Chapter 10 (Questions) of the National Assembly Rules. The Chairperson remarked that the Task Team was close to completing its mandate. He reminded Members that the objective of the review was to make Parliament more functional and there was no limit to the extent of the changes which could be made to the rules.
Discussion focused on the essence and importance of questions; the effect of the proportional representation system on the type of questions asked in the House; ‘sweetheart’ questions and fear of the executive by ruling party MPs; the practice of and the criteria for editing of questions by the Questions Office, political management of the questions process; how the Rules review was approaching gender balance; the permitting of electronic submission of questions.
The Questions Office of the National Assembly then presented the Chapter 10 proposed changes for consideration. Rules 107 to 109 were covered.
The Chairperson remarked that the Task Team was close to completing its mandate. The objective of the review of the rules was to make Parliament more functional and there was no limit to the changes which could be made to the National Assembly Rules. For the review of Chapter 10 on Questions, the staff from the Questions Office of the National Assembly Table was present and Members could raise concerns about Chapter 10 with them. The National Assembly Table Staff would then present the proposed changes to the Rules. He drew attention to the Memorandum which had been circulated by the Table Staff.
Mr M Booi (ANC) said that it was the responsibility of the Task Team to improve the performance of South Africa’s democracy by making the rules of Parliament work. Both the majority party and the opposition were present to make their voices heard. Questions in Parliament were an avenue for criticism and criticism was a major component in the development of a democracy. In designing the rules governing Questions in the National Assembly, this was with a view to enhancing participation in the House by the Members and to enable proper interaction with the Executive. Parliament was supposed to use these forums to seek information from the Executive. Political management in Parliament was a strategic issue and even the ANC had to know that it was important not to micro-manage committees but to have a political management strategy to ensure proper results and to deal with multi-party politics. The point that was missing in the current system was ensuring that parties represented in Parliament, no matter how small they were, also had a voice. In that way there was never going to be a dull moment in the House. South Africa was not a dull society and it was not going to have a dull Parliament.
A former DA Member of Parliament, Mr Mike Ellis, said that the discussion of the day was going to be one of the best which the Task Team had carried out considering the very open-minded introduction by Mr Booi. Mr Booi had raised very important issues and it was only after the political issues around questions had been discussed that the other technical and procedural issues could be dealt with. The question process was very important in the construction and protection of society. Questions were critical in creating the image of Parliament and a bad question-time created a very bad image. In the current questions system in Parliament, there were many aspects which were not good as the system was based on proportionality. This meant that the bigger the party, the more questions they had on the Order Paper. He was hoping that the current review would create an opportunity for a debate on interpellations. The essence of questions was going to be lost if it was dominated by a majority party which was asking sweetheart questions. This was actually the current situation. The role of the Ministers during question time was critical. Many questions were asked just for the sake of it and for the wrong reasons.
He was very concerned that the UK House of Commons asked over 50 questions per day while the South African Parliament asked only about 10 questions. He was also concerned that the social services cluster had been questioned only three times during the entire year. That was shocking and the only way to redress this was to improve question time. The length of the parliamentary week was also very short and the programme was thus condensed to the point where there was no time for essential things.
Ms S Kaylan (DA) said that a major reason for disorder during question time was because the Ministers either did not reply or gave very insufficient answers such as “yes” or “no”. One needed to find a better way of making Ministers more responsible in the House. The purpose of question time was to get information and request action and she disagreed with the idea that if a matter “was before a commission”, it could not be placed on the Question Paper. She did not think that presented a conflict as some Members often said. It would have been a different matter if the issue was before a parliamentary committee. The National Assembly went through an average of 10 questions in a two-hour period and that time was insufficient.
A former IFP Member of Parliament, Ms Sybil Seaton, said that it was very good to hear an ANC Member like Mr Booi having a very balanced attitude. It was great because there was the tendency for very one-sided views by both the opposition and the majority party. Mr Booi’s attitude was one of “let’s make Parliament work” and that was fantastic. She was concerned about the extent of editing made to questions. Very often, a party would submit a question but the format of the question would be changed to such an extent where it lost all of its relevance.
The Chairperson reminded the Table Staff from the Questions Office to note of all the comments made by Members as these comments were going to be helpful in the drafting of the rules in Chapter 10.
Ms J Kilian (COPE) said that the objective of question time had to be kept in mind. This was one of the factors that could have a great impact on the role of Parliament as a legislative body to exercise its power and responsibility in terms of the Constitution. In addition to what Mr Booi said, there was a complexity in that MPs were elected through the list system representing political parties but as individuals they all took an oath of office and that always made it particularly difficult for Members of the ruling party. The oath taken by Members meant that they ensure that the executive is held accountable. On the other hand, no ruling party, especially in a proportional representation system would tolerate Members who exposed lack of delivery by the executive and therefore one could not expect questions by the ruling party to be objective. In a constituency system, MPs were sent by their constituencies so they had more freedom and there was a protection for the questioning. However, Parliament could not fail to execute its legislative role and the provisions of the Constitution.
If one of the weaknesses of the proportional representation (PR) system was that MPs’ heads could roll if they did or said something which the executive was not happy with, then that had to be brought into the reality of how question time was conducted in the National Assembly. The proportionality of question was not complying with what the Constitution wanted Parliament to establish which is a very responsive and accountable executive. It was important to remember that South Africa was 20 years into its democracy and the public could not be allowed to have the wrong perception about Parliament – that the lack of delivery in certain areas was not being investigated. Parliament had to ensure that the people trusted the parliamentary democratic system. Participation in elections had shown a downward trend in terms of number of voters. It was the responsibility of the Task Team to improve the relevance of Parliament and to make the question sessions more timely and important. One needed to look at the frequency of question days, the submission times for questions, and a review of certain practices which had been developed in the National Assembly. Some of the practices were even from the old dispensation. Some of the old National Party MPs had boasted that they would be off somewhere playing golf and they would have to be called in to come and vote. This was just the careless use of majority and practices which did not enhance accountability in the past, should not be continued. The Team had to ensure that the Questions chapter was really turned around and the practice of Ministers getting away with not answering some questions, was addressed.
She knew that there were certain directions as to what could be asked to Ministers, the Deputy President and the President. Very often it became very difficult to formulate a question to the President which passed all those hurdles. It was extremely difficult. It was sad that many questions did not overcome the final hurdle. Thus the criteria for the selection of questions had to be made very clear. She wanted to know where the practice came from and what rule could apply to it.
Mr Booi said that there were issues of gender and patriarchy which had to be considered. How did the rules intend to accommodate the development of young women within the institution?
Mr Kasper Hahndiek, former Secretary to the National Assembly and consultant, said the Members had touched on some very vital issues. Mr Booi raised the responsiveness of Parliament to society’s expectations. Members of the majority party were faced with the huge challenge of having to avoid embarrassing a member of the executive as an MP could be redeployed for such an action. Some Ministers had come to Parliament and appealed to Members to do their jobs properly and hold the executive accountable and to oversee the activities of the executive. The solution lay perhaps with a cultural change. The executive had indicated in some cases that they would appreciate it if Members did their jobs more effectively. What needed to happen was that both the executive and the legislative had to understand that it was a partnership arrangement. The executive was not going to always get critical input from society directly. They had to often rely on Parliament to actually represent the public and through questions and debates to call the attention of the executive to certain issues. The Ministers had to appreciate such a cooperative partnership. The public service delivery protests were often a display of the fact that the public no longer could rely on Parliament to speak on their behalf. This was a fundamental concern and so it was important that the questioning mechanism should become more effective. It was very disturbing that some clusters got only one opportunity a year for questioning. There was no way that the executive could be held accountable in such a system. He suggested that there was the need that during the budget vote debate sessions, questions should not fall away. This was a critical element of legislature activity. There also had to be more time for questions. Over the years some Ministers had shown a lack of interest in responding to questions and to Parliament in any form. This could amount to contempt in certain circumstances as in where a Minister refuses to appear before a Committee, refuses to answer questions or to be present for question time. The Speaker should be able to refer this to the Leader of Government Business and expect that the senior leadership would not tolerate Ministers failing to comply with their constitutional duties.
The Chairperson called on the official in charge of the Questions Office, Mr Michael Plaatjies, to respond to some of the issues raised by the Members.
Questions Office response
Mr Plaatjies said that most of the issues raised were very critical and it was important to note that the context within which the rules were being reviewed was that Parliament and the National Assembly in particular was a pillar of society as well as being a mirror of society. Mr Hahndiek had dealt with this, speaking of it being the representation of the views of society including gender issues and other sensitive aspects. Questions remained the most personal of all the activities of the House, reflecting much more closely than any other form of procedure the everyday concerns of Members. Members did their constituency work and had to bring up issues in the questions. He had his personal views but he could not allow that to impact on how he adjudicated upon what questions were valid or not. However, the view of all the Members was that there was a body of rules relating to questions which was not written. This directly affected the decision about which questions made it to the Order Paper. It was now the role of the Task team to deal with such “vagueness” in the Rules of the National Assembly. It was also important to minimize the effect of the actions of officials on the decision about which questions were asked in Parliament.
On the views of other smaller parties, it was important to note that the PR system was in operation and when the new questions process was introduced, one of the main objectives was to give smaller parties a greater opportunity for participation within the questions process or through supplementary questions. This was why the Speaker always guided the process in terms of the main and supplementary questions. While the system may not work perfectly, it had to be open for review. In the North West provincial legislature, when a Minister did not answer a question and the question stood over, it fell to the responsibility of the Premier and the Premier usually did not like to have to come and answer a Minister’s questions. Ms Kilian had asked why the President could not be asked the questions which the Ministers did not answer as he was the head of the executive. These were issues which could be raised by the Members and included in the Rules.
The Rules had to be followed strictly. If a Member brought in a question two minutes after the deadline for submission of questions, should he waive the Rules which governed Parliament? He could only work with the Rules which had been approved by the House. Whether it considered gender sensitivity and proportional representation, all he could do was to work according to the Rules as given to him. On questions which were not answered due to time constraints (after the two hours in the House), a Minister must in terms of the Rules provide the response as a written reply the next day before 12 noon. Beyond that, the questions were going to be considered to stand over.
The Chairperson said that it was important to remember that South Africa was a very young democracy and it did not mean that the executive was intentionally holding Parliament in contempt. At times inexperience could also contribute to some of these issues. An MP could feel that a Minister did not want to answer the question because he was a member of a particular party but that was not always the case. Generally the point was that as the country was evolving, there was the need to set Rules which would encourage a new culture in Parliament. If not, these habits were going to continue forever. It was important to note that everything in Parliament was about politics and MPs knew what they wanted to achieve and what points they wanted to score with any particular question asked. The likelihood for the governing party to defend themselves during questions and debates was much higher and therefore balancing the two was very important. That Rules had to be drafted with fairness accorded to all parties in Parliament. It was the duty of every Member of Parliament, opposition or not, to ensure the dignity and integrity of Parliament. Even the ANC itself wanted Members to raise serious issues during question time. There had to be a very strong Parliament and a very strong executive. Questions were about politics and to ensure that the public was appropriately served. The review of the rules was thus meant to change the old habits in an incremental way and to present changes which could be accepted by the MPs. Members did not have to be scared to ask difficult questions. The review of the rules had to change the way things were being done. The Task Team was very open to new ideas. Every party was happy for the rules to improve to ensure that question time was not a waste of time. It had to be understood that question time and Committee meetings had to be taken very seriously. It did not make sense that a Minister should leave Tshwane and come all the way to Cape Town only to find out that members of the Committee were absent. A lot of money had been spent. The executive had raised this as a serious issue and if this issue was not addressed, there was going to be a problem with increasing the number of questions for question time in Parliament. The Executive had many responsibilities and it was also very costly for them to travel to Cape Town. It was very disappointing for a Minister to come all the way, only to be told that the Committee meeting was not happening because no Members were there. It was true that the Rules were now going to deal with the quorum issue but this was a bigger issue because in partnerships no partner should have to suffer and the common interest of the partners had to be safeguarded. The supremacy of Parliament had to always be guaranteed as all the other arms of government derived their supremacy from Parliament. Once confidence was lost in Parliament, there were going to be continual public protests throughout the country.
The Questions Office had made several proposals which had been read by the Members. He asked the Table Staff to take the Members through the proposals – given their experience and having heard the discussions. At a political level, it was generally agreed that questions were very important to hold the executive accountable.
Questions Office briefing on Chapter 10
Mr Plaatjies told the Committee that Chapter 10 of the Rules of the National Assembly was structured in three parts. Part One basically talked about when questions were submitted and what were the conventions which applied to a question. Part Two dealt with Questions For Oral Reply and these were questions to the Ministers, the Deputy President and the President. Part Three dealt with Questions For Written Reply.
Part One: Introduction
Mr Plaatjies said that this rule had never been used except twice in 1995. He did not know why it was not being used and it had just fallen into dysfunctionality. This rule gave Members an opportunity to ask, with the permission of the Speaker, a question which could overwrite an urgent question. With urgent questions, the notice period was 6 to 7 days, whereas as in terms of Rule 107(1) a Member could negotiate how quickly a question could be brought to the Minister, the Deputy President or the President. This meant that the Member received the approval of the Speaker to put a question on the Question Paper without notice. He proposed that the rule should be considered.
The Task Team could make allowance for electronic submissions. In other Parliaments this provision was already being used but the South African Parliament still only made use of the signed typed out copy by the Member. It was noticed that in many instances it was just one Member who signed off many of the questions for a party. That was not a problem although the rule intended that a Member should be in charge of his or her own particular question. There were instances where Members were approached about the question which was signed by them and they did not even know about the question. Most often it was the researchers who prepared the questions and not the MPs who signed them. This was one reason why he proposed that Rule 107(2) should cater for electronic submissions.
Mr Hahndiek proposed that the Task Team should not be too quick to look at the option of electronic submission of questions because a lot of questions were prepared by researchers and signed by the questions whip in a party. However, it was important that Members should take individual ownership of their questions and the only way for that to happen was to get signatures. It was true that it was easier to send questions electronically and it was also more convenient for the Questions Office to work with electronic submissions, but it was not very difficult for a Member to get a question to the Questions Office. Care had to be taken to avoid questions from rushing in and the Members from whose offices these questions came were not even aware of the questions. Electronic submissions were also going to greatly affect the quality of the questions. In the UK, serious concerns had been raised about electronic submission of questions.
Mr Booi said that the problem with Rules 107(1) and 107(2) was a historical one in that a question had once been posed to President Mandela and his response brought serious tension between South Africa and Nigeria. It was a big problem and since then the ANC had become very sensitive about allowing the President to comment on certain issues.
The Chairperson said that there was a need to separate political management from administration. How Members managed the signing of questions within their parties had to be the political management of the parties concerned. The Rules should not be outdated. The entire world was growing with technology and Parliament’s rules were supposed to also develop with technology.
Mr Booi asked if it was the Rules Committee or the Chief Whips Forum which was then going to be in charge of guiding the political management process.
Ms Seaton said that it was clear that in many of the political parties, the Members themselves did not actually prepare the questions. It was often done by researchers while the whip in charge of questions signed them off. On the issue of electronic submissions, the moment a question came in via email from a Member, it was as good as being signed by the Member. The electronic system was very good.
Mr Hahndiek asked what was going to be the situation if the email came from the general party office and not from a particular Member.
Ms Kilian said that it was a good idea for the rules to move with the times and embrace electronic submissions but it had to come from a Member of Parliament. The issue of ownership of questions was an important one. Member had to sign for their questions. If electronic submission had to be considered, it had to be agreed that it was going to be considered only if it came directly from the Member’s email address.
Ms Kalyan added that she supported the use of electronic submission. She stated that the authority was with the Speaker and not the Chief Whips Forum or any other substructure. The body which Mr Plaatjies was talking about was supposed to be considered in terms of oversight and monitoring. It could however be expanded to handle other detail rather than limiting it to a small mandate. The electronic submission of questions was a good idea but it was all about political management. There was a Questions Office in the DA where all questions went. This office was monitored as there were often general questions. It was all about internal mechanisms and management.
Ms Kilian asked if it could not be introduced into the Rules that the whips of parties could sign off a question on behalf of a Member.
Ms Marina Griebenow, National Assembly Table Staff, raised the point that whenever there was a dispute about anything, the staff went back and followed the paper trail. She was not arguing against electronic submission but it was very important to retain the concept of signatures. The system could also use electronic signatures. The IT system did not have the capacity to store mails for a very long time and there was the need to consider archiving as well. Until technology for electronic signatures could be obtained and used, it was important to ensure that there was a hard copy with the Member’s signature. It was also important to be wary of the hacking of emails.
The Chairperson said that the amendment was generally agreed on. It was good to embrace electronic submission of questions but not in a way to discard the ownership of questions by Members and the signing off of questions. It was automatic that any unsigned question was not to be put on the Question Paper. It was the responsibility of the party and the Members to ensure that their questions were signed. It was not the place of officials and the administration to run after Members to sign their questions. The officials had to be very careful because it was very easy for a Member to dissociate themselves from a question if there was any trouble. The political process had to left for politicians.
Mr Booi said that there was a principle of partnership. The public had given Parliament money to run its affairs properly. It was important for the integrity of the institution to be upheld. There had to be a firm principle that if a question was unsigned, nothing was going to happen to it. Parties had to sort out their own internal management of this.
The Secretary to the Task Team, Mr Perran Hahndiek, asked if the question had to be signed by only the Whip or the particular Member asking the question or by any other Member.
Ms Kalyan replied that the question had to be signed by a representative of the party.
The Chairperson said that the Whip represented the party and could sign off questions. However, just any Member could not sign off a question.
Mr Ellis said that the discussion was now moving in circles with no clear direction as to where the Task Team was headed. He was not quite sure what the objective of the current discussion was.
The Chairperson agreed with Mr Ellis and asked Mr Plaatjies to proceed with the proposed review.
Mr Plaatjies said Table Staff was of the view that this rule was out of sync with current practice: “Questions delivered to the Secretary before 12:00 on any working day may appear on the Question Paper on the second sitting day thereafter and not earlier.” Most often, Question Papers were published when Members were in Committees. In terms of this rule, questions may not appear until there was a sitting day. The rule had to be reconsidered because there were many constituency days and committee days without any House sessions. Did this then mean that no questions could be published during Committee week? This was the problem with this rule as questions had to be able to be published during Committee week.
Mr Hahndiek said that the main purpose of amending this rule was to allow the Question Office to have one day where questions could be published regardless of whether it was a constituency day or committee day.
Ms Kilian said that there was an increasing shift towards the use of technology and she did not see any reason why Member could not receive parliamentary papers such as Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports (ATCs) during constituency week. Very often, Members received calls from the media about certain pressing concerns but MPs had not been informed about these because the ATCs had not been circulated. She was concerned that there was no need to differentiate when Question Paper should be published. The publishing had to be continuous and if the Rules did not clearly describe that principle, then they had to be clarified. It had to be clear that the working day did not mean only sitting periods. The working day had to be any Monday to Friday to ensure that Members were informed consistently.
Mr Booi said that Parliament had spent much money in providing electronic tablets to Members. The publishing of ATCs and sending them to Members could happen on any day. This was also going to reduce expenditure of Members who travelled to Cape Town only to realize no meetings were planned.
Ms Griebenow said that if the Rules had to decide that ATCs were published continuously, then there had to be consistency with the publishing of motions, Bills, and committee reports all through the year. The Rules had to be consistent in the submission of all of these items.
The Chairperson said that somewhere in the Rules, constituency periods had been dealt with. It was not a problem to have information on a constant basis. It was a very practical approach. The principle was to have Members of Parliament informed about what was happening in Parliament. How to carry this out was what had to be looked at.
Mr Hahndiek replied that working days were Mondays to Fridays excluding weekends and public holidays. Sitting days were defined as those days in which the House met, not the Committee. All non-sitting days remain working days. The main issue was whether it was in order for a Member to submit Private Member’s Bills when the House was not sitting or during constituency period.
Ms Kilian said that provision could be made for the submission of the Private Members Bills during a specific period. However, for Questions which was a primary oversight tool which stemmed also from constituency work, there had to be an opportunity for the submission of questions during constituency periods. As far as motions were concerned, clearly the topics for discussion also needed some scrutiny but, in principle, there was not a problem with this as there could be urgent matters which needed to be reported.
Mr Booi said there needed to be an insistence that people should be free to express their views. The big question was how to make Parliament relevant and have the capacity to respond to the challenges the country faced.
Mr Plaatjies said that it meant that Questions were not going to be published only during Committee weeks and sitting weeks but could also be published during constituency periods.
The Chairperson said that it was a good idea for the Rules to reflect that if Members wanted to pose questions during the constituency period, there was no harm in them doing so.
Mr Plaatjies explained that subject to Rules 108(7), 110(3) and 111, the Secretary must place the questions on the Question Paper in the order in which they are received. The rule was silent on exceptions like Rules 108(9) and 110(5). The difficulty that the rule was faced with was to make a general provision under Part 1 while there were many exceptions to it in Part 2. Accordingly, the Table Staff proposed that the rule be framed in general terms.
Mr Hahndiek added that this rule was clumsily worded so it was important to review it.
Mr Plaatjies said questions standing over ultimately depended on the questions prioritised by the party as the Rules provided for the prioritization of questions. If the question standing over was not prioritised, then it was not going to come up again but would appear in the Order Paper further down.
The Chairperson said that the input from Mr Plaatjies was very logical. If a question was not relevant, then it would not be prioritised.
Mr Plaatjies said that the Rules had to make provision for when a question was not responded to within 10 working days, especially as the rule was not firm about the sequence of rotation.
Ms Kilian said that she agreed with Mr Hahndiek that the review could go “for a general line” although it was easier to be specific otherwise a very comprehensive understanding of the Rules book was required. Specific references had to be included to impact on the way the Secretary placed the matters on the Order Paper.
Ms Griebenow asked what happened when a question was asked by a Member but before it was heard, the Member who asked it was either dead or no longer a Member of Parliament. Could the question be asked by another Member or was a question the property of a Member?
Mr Hahndiek replied that when a Member ceased to be a Member all the input including motions and questions from such a Member would fall away. However, at the point where the questions fell away, the administration could discuss with the party whether they wanted it to be transferred to another Member.
Mr Plaatjies said that the issue was about when a Member resigned or was deceased. The practice and not the Rules determined that the question fell away. This was based on the notion that the questions were personal matters of a Member stemming from their constituencies. Therefore it could not just be transferred. However, it could be transferred if the Member so wished.
The Chairperson said that it was only appropriate for questions of Members who were no longer in Parliament to fall away. It could be very rude and disheartening for Parliament to pose a question of a Member who had passed on. In the case of a Member who was fired, it could be problematic for a party to read the questions of a Member who had been fired. However, it was up to the parties to decide what they wanted to do with the questions.
Rules 107(5) and 107(6)
The Chairperson confirmed that there were no issues with these Rules.
Mr Perran Hahndiek referred to Rule 107(6): “If a notice of a question offends against the practice or these
Rules the Speaker may either amend the question or return it to the member who submitted it”. He asked what constituted practice and on what basis did the Speaker amend a question or return it to a Member who asked it. His proposal was that practice should be codified by the Rules. He was uncomfortable with the use of the word ‘practice’.
Ms Kilian agreed and supported the proposal. She said that at times, the essence of a question was actually defeated by the editing so it was very important to set clearly the criteria for the editing of questions asked by Members. She added that the Questions Office had often been very helpful but at times she had seriously mistrusted them. The guidelines had to be in line with the Constitution and not create friction between Members and the National Assembly Table Staff.
The Chairperson replied that the duty of the Questions Office was to work on the language of the question and not the politics involved in the question. Politics involved a lot of nuances and unless these nuances were mastered, the whole essence of the question could be wiped out.
Mr Kasper Hahndiek said that all the criteria were included in the Guide to Procedure. The Rules Committee could go through the Guide clause-by-clause to establish if the criteria were acceptable. Questions were often crafted in a particular form to make them more effective. A question had to be crafted in such a way that the required answer was obtained. The Questions Office had the skill to frame the questions in such a way that the required answer was obtained. The Questions Office was there to assist Members. The choice of words by Members was also very important. If a Member wanted a particular word, they could request the Question Office to retain those words.
The Chairperson said that not everything in politics could be anticipated. There was no harm in the Task Team amending the Rules in a way they deemed fit. There was no need for the Task Team to be very conservative. He proposed that the discussions should move on. He proposed that the Table Staff and the Members should hasten the pace of the discussion. The Table Staff should be given the opportunity to outline the Rules which they proposed for review. Members should only make suggestions directly relevant to the rule reviewed because the general discussion and opinions were not taking the process forward.
Mr Plaatjies said this rule provided that a Member may give notice or take charge of a question on behalf of an absent Member if the Member has been authorised to do so by the absent Member. The Table Staff proposed that consideration be given to amend this rule in accordance with the proposed amended Rule 71.
The Chairperson commented that the Task Team had already discussed asking questions on behalf of Members who were absent, had left or had passed on.
Part Two: Questions for Oral reply – Form and Arrangement of Questions
Mr Plaatjies said that a question for oral reply may not contain more than five subdivisions. The position of the Table Staff was that the amended rule was likely to ensure that Members were more focused and succinct about their questions.
Mr Plaatjies said that if the Speaker was of the opinion that a question dealt with a matter of a statistical nature, the Speaker could direct that the question be placed on the Question Paper For Written Reply. All questions first appeared on the Internal Question Paper before they were placed on the Question Paper to be dealt with in the Assembly. Accordingly all references to Question Paper should be reconsidered.
Rule 108(4) and Rule 108(5)
In terms of Rule 108(5), the restrictions imposed by Rule 108(4) and by Rules 109(5), 110(4) and 111(5) did not apply to questions approved as urgent questions in terms of Rule 112; standing over in terms of Rule 114(2)(a) or 115(1); or transferred from written to oral reply in terms of Rule 117.
While this rule provided for exceptions, it did not provide clarity about what would happen in the event that a particular party may not have an opportunity in the sequence to put a new question to the President or Deputy President, but nevertheless wished to transfer a written question to a Question For Oral Reply in accordance with Rule 117(1). The question was how would this impact on the sequence that “… rotates without interruption…” as provided for in Rule 108(9) and what would the impact be in respect of parties falling in between?
In short, there was no exception to the sequence by which parties rotated (NA Rule 108(9)) and while a question may make it onto the Question Paper in accordance with the exception provided by Rules 108(5) to Rule 117(1) it did not provide an exception to the sequence of questions on the Question Paper.
Mr Plaatjies said that a question that was submitted for oral reply must be placed on the Question Paper for Oral Reply at least six working days prior to the Question day on which it was to be replied to.
The Table Staff proposed that this was inconsistent with the practice where questions appeared on the Internal Question Paper as raised above.
Mr Plaatjies said that an authorised representative of a party may before 12:00 on the Wednesday before the question day on which questions put by Members of that party are to be answered, notify the Secretary in writing of the order in which those questions are to be placed on the Question Paper.
He said that consideration had to be taken that the specified days were not always cast in stone in spite of being specified in the Rules, as intervening public holidays and other scheduling problems may result in deviations from the Rules. This the Table Staff were of the view that one avoid references to specified days.
Mr Plaatjies said that the sequence of questions on the Question Paper rotated without interruption for the duration of an annual session according to the order in which Members of the respective parties put forward their questions. That order was determined by the Chief Whips’ Forum from time to time. In this regard, it was important to note that the appropriate amendment to Rule 221 relating to the Functions and Powers of Chief Whips’ Forum required consideration. If it was the intention of the Rules that the Chief Whips’ Forum was a forum for discussion, the provision of powers through Rule 108(9) to the Forum would be contrary to Rule 22. This function may be referred to the Chief Whips’ Forum for input to the Rules Committee for decision. If, however, it was the intention to give the Forum the power to determine the sequence of questions on the Question Paper, it may be appropriate and practical to leave the matter with the Chief Whips’ Forum for decision and to amend Rule 221 accordingly.
Mr Plaatjies said this rule stated, “Questions for oral reply by Ministers which must be dealt with in accordance with three clusters of portfolios of government affairs, as determined from time to time by the Chief Whips’ Forum after consultation with the Leader of Government Business, and published in the ATC”:
As mentioned before, the appropriate amendment to Rule 221 (Functions and Powers of Chief Whips’ Forum) required consideration.
This rule had been amended by House Resolution as detailed in the Minutes of the Proceedings of the National Assembly of 1 September 2009. The Table Staff proposed that the text as captured by the resolution was a better option. It provided as follows:
(1) Questions for oral reply by Ministers must be dealt with in accordance with a clustered system of government portfolios, as determined by the Chief Whips’ Forum from time to time, after consultation with the Leader of Government Business, and published in the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports.
(2) The clusters rotate on a weekly basis, so that questions relating to each cluster are answered in succession in accordance with the agreed system (this rule remains subject to SubRules (3) and (4)).
This motion was agreed to.
(Minutes of the Proceedings of the National Assembly, No 18 of 2009, 1 September 2009, page 663).
Mr Plaatjies said that the clusters rotated on a weekly basis, so that questions relating to each respective cluster were answered every third question day (subject to SubRules (3) and (4)). This rule required amendment in line with the Assembly resolution.
The Chairperson thanked everyone for their contributions and the meeting was adjourned.
- We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.