Disruptions during National Assembly proceedings: proposals

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Meeting Summary


Bhengu, F (ANC); Booi, M S (ANC); Boroto, M G (House Chairperson); Didiza, A T (House Chairperson); Dlakude, D E (Deputy Chief Whip of the Majority Party); Dudley, C (ACDP); Frolick, C T (House Chairperson); Khubisa, N M (NFP); Kilian, J D (ANC); Koornhof, G W (ANC); Kubayi, M T (ANC); Kwankwa, N L S (UDM); Masango, S J (DA); Mashile, B L (ANC); Maxon, H O (EFF); Mazzone N W A (DA); Mbete, B (Speaker of the National Assembly); Mdakane, M R (ANC); Memela, T C (ANC); Mothapo, M R M (ANC); Mulder, C P (FF Plus); Ndlozi, M Q (EFF); Ntshayisa , L M (AIC); September, C C (ANC); Shivambu, N F (EFF); Singh, N (IFP); Sizani, S P (Chief Whip of the Majority Party); Steenhuisen, J H (Chief Whip of the Opposition); Tsenoli, L S (Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly) and Waters, M (DA).

Staff in attendance:

G Mgidlana (Secretary to Parliament); M Xaso (Secretary to the National Assembly); F Jenkins (Legal Services) and F Basson (NA Table).

1.         Opening and welcome

The Speaker opened the meeting at 10:15.

2.         Apologies (Agenda item 1)

Apologies were tendered on behalf of Mr Y I Carrim (ANC), Ms D Carter (Cope), Ms J C Moloi-Moropa (ANC) and Mr V G Smith (ANC).

3.         Consideration of draft agenda (Agenda item 2)

The draft agenda, as presented, was adopted.

4.         Discussion of measures pertaining to disruptions in the House (Agenda item 3)

The Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Review of the National Assembly Rules, Mr Mdakane, said that the subcommittee was instructed to develop measures to address disruptions in the National Assembly for submission to the Rules Committee. The subcommittee met on 23 June 2015 to deliberate on such measures.

At the meeting, the Secretary to the National Assembly presented a discussion document on measures to address disruptions during proceedings. The document reflected on statutory provisions and the rules, proposed draft rules and standard operating procedures. The draft rules were developed from the work previously carried out by the subcommittee during its comprehensive review of the rules. The standard operating procedures were designed to supplement the rules. There was broad agreement on the proposals made among the political parties present. However, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) objected to the draft rules and the standard operating procedures. 

Mr Mdakane outlined some of the key issues raised by the subcommittee during its meeting: These were:

  • Parliamentary Protection Services or Parliamentary Guard, and not the police, should be responsible for removing members from the Chamber when necessary, and its activities should be clearly defined and regulated.
  • Legal Services to provide an opinion on the legal authority of the Parliamentary Protection Services, as far as removing members is concerned.
  • The security personnel should be accountable only to Parliament, and be trained in non-invasive tactics.
  • “Minimum force” to be used in removing a member may need to be explained, alternatively the rule should read “may use such force as may be reasonably necessary to overcome any resistance”.
  • The Police should still be able to remove members of the public from the gallery who behave in a disorderly manner.
  • The Police should be able to enter the Chamber when there is a threat to the physical safety of a person or damage to property (Section 4(2) of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures, Act 4 of 2004).
  • If proceedings are suspended for the purposes of removing a member, all other members must remain in their seats.
  • The matter of automatic suspension of a member who has been removed from the Chamber requires consideration. Some members supported the idea of suspension without pay.
  • Concern has been raised about suspension without due process, including when the suspension is without pay.
  • There is agreement that generally Protection Services and the police should not be armed when they enter the Chamber on the order of the Speaker. Protocols would need to be entered into with police management to ensure that it is possible for them to be unarmed if they have to enter the Chamber on the order of the Speaker.
  • The EFF objected to the proposed draft rules and operating procedures on the basis that the current disorder was not a result of the rules but a political issue and that members should only be removed from the House in cases of grave disorder or in cases in which there was a threat to life. Due process should always be followed.

In closing, Mr Mdakane said that it was recommended that both the draft rules and the standard operating procedures be affirmed by the Rules Committee but be referred back to the subcommittee to address technical issues and to submit a final report to the Rules Committee.

Ms Kubayi welcomed the subcommittee report and said that a lack of capacity in the Parliamentary Protection Services complicated dealing with the current situation. She asked if it was not possible to second police officers to the protection service while its capacity was being improved.

Mr Steenhuisen said that the existing rules were insufficient to deal with the current situation in the House and that the Rules Committee was empowered to make rules to rectify this. He added that he was uncomfortable with placing police officers under the authority of the Speaker but that the Parliamentary Protection Services should report to a multiparty committee that would have oversight over it. Mr Steenhuisen also said that the issue of withholding the remuneration of members should form part of the Review of the Powers and Privileges Act.

Mr Ndlozi said that the overall review of the rules should take precedence and not just the current proposal from the subcommittee. He added that only a threat of physical violence should lead to the removal of a member from the Chamber and in such cases, due process had to be followed. He stated that his party was against arbitrary decisions to remove members from the Chamber and curtail their rights as the presiding officers were biased against the EFF and did not apply the rules evenly to its members. He suggested that the proposal be referred back to the subcommittee for further  consultation and that the bias of the presiding officers be addressed.

Mr Singh stated that extraordinary measures were required now as members were being disrespectful of the rules. He added that the police should not fall under the direction of the Speaker and enquired about the status of Parliament’s security policy that had been distributed.

Prof Khubisa said the problem had to be solved urgently as the image of Parliament was suffering. He proposed a multiparty approach to reach a solution. Ms Maxon stated that the bias of the presiding officers had to be addressed via a political solution and not new rules.

Mr Shivambu said that it was opportunistic to deal with only one proposed rule amendment at this time and that the overall review of the rules should be completed first. He added that the presiding officers were all deployees of the ANC and could not be expected to be neutral referees. Mr Shivambu said that members should never be assaulted for what they said in the House and that his party rejected the subcommittee proposal. He indicated that the proposed rule change was aimed at the EFF for attempting to hold the President accountable and that his party could not agree to removal of members without due process. He also said that automatic suspension of members who had been removed from the Chamber was illegal and unconstitutional.

Mr Steenhuisen said the Rules Committee made rules for the National Assembly and not just for one party. He said that members could not perform their functions properly because of the disruptions in the House and that new rules to deal with such disruptions were urgently needed. He added that a mechanism was needed to challenge rulings by the presiding officers which members felt were unfair.

Mr Kwankwa said that the potential paralysis of House proceedings required the presiding officers to intervene but that due process still had to be followed. This, he said, should form part of the review of the Powers and Privileges Act. He agreed that a mechanism was required to challenge rulings by the presiding officers which members felt aggrieved at.

Dr Mulder said that all parties had certain rights in the House which was not limited to the ANC and EFF. He added that it was important to address the problem immediately so that members knew that if they disrupted proceedings they would be removed from the Chamber. He also said that the Parliamentary Protection Services should report to a multiparty committee.

Mr Booi said it was important to protect the democratic rights of all members and the rules should be used for this purpose. Ms Didiza said the role of the police in the Chamber should be clarified in the review of the Powers and Privileges Act. She added that international practice should be investigated in relation to the independence and neutrality of presiding officers. Mr Ntshayisa said it was important for members to obey the rules but that due process had to be followed. He added that physical removal of members from the Chamber was problematic and that other options should be investigated in this regard.

Prof Khubisa said that members took an oath when they were sworn in and therefore had a responsibility to obey the rules. Ms Kilian also referred to the oath members took and said that the EFF was selectively obeying the rules. She reminded the meeting that the subcommittee proposal was intended for instances where members refused to voluntarily leave the Chamber when ordered to do so by a presiding officer. Ms Dlakude stressed the need for new rules to deal with disruptions as the House could not be held to ransom by one party while members of other parties wanted to exercise their rights. Mr Mdakane said that a rule amendment was clearly needed and that if members were aggrieved at this they could challenge it in court.

On the proposal of the Speaker, it was

AGREED: That the draft rules and standard operating procedures pertaining to disruptions in the House, as presented by the Subcommittee on Review of the Assembly Rules, be affirmed by the Committee but be referred back to the subcommittee to address technical issues and to submit a final report to the Rules Committee.

5.         Closing (Agenda item 4)

The meeting adjourned at 11:50.

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