The Portfolio Committee met to discuss the responses by the Public Protector, after the request by Mr J Steenhuisen (DA) to expedite procedures to remove the Public Protector from office
At the outset, the Committee was alerted by the Committee Secretary that as from the today Mr MMotshekga had been discharged by the ATC from the committee and could no longer be the Chairperson for the committee. The Secretary expressed that he had been instructed by management to lead the election of an acting Chairperson for the meeting.
There was some debate and disagreement about the interpretation of the rules and what to do in a scenario where the Chairperson was not just absent but had been removed. Some members did not agree with the election of an acting Chairperson. They were of the view that a new Chairperson for the committee should be elected. Other members expressed that the committee has a rule which states that the committee ought to elect an acting Chairperson if the Chairperson was absent or unable to perform his duties. They thought that an acting Chairperson should be elected.
After seeking advice, it was ruled that the Committee would elect a new chairperson. After a close vote, Mr Smith (6 votes) was elected Chairperson over Mr Swart (5 votes).
The agenda for the meeting was postponed to allow the new Chairperson to familiarise himself with the relevant documentation.
Election of Acting Chairperson
The Committee Secretary greeted the Committee members and welcomed everyone.
He announced that according to the day’s Announcements, Tabling and Committee (ATC) publication, Dr M S Motshekga had been discharged from the Committee and would no longer be the Chairperson.
He stated that he had received instructions to facilitate the election of an acting Chairperson. He requested that the Committee elects an acting Chairperson.
Ms G Breytenbach (DA) and Mr W Horn (DA) asked the Secretary who had instructed him to facilitate the election.
The Secretary replied that he had been instructed by his managers.
Ms Breytenbach further asked the Secretary who he thought instructs the Committee.
The Secretary replied that he thought the Committee members received instruction from their political parties.
He asked to open the floor for nominations.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) stated that the Committee must act in accordance to the rules. He asked what the rules state with respect to a vacancy on the position of the Chairperson.
The Secretary explained that the rules stated that when the Chairperson is absent, the Committee should elect one of its members as an acting Chairperson.
Ms Breytenbach stated that those may have been the rules that the Secretary had looked at. However, she asked what the rules were in the current situation where a Chairperson had been removed and not absent. What do the rules state about electing a new Chairperson?
Mr D Van Rooyen (ANC) remarked that the Secretary indicated that he saw an ATC which the Members had not seen. Did the ATC indicate that there was a vacancy?
The Secretary responded that the ATC did no stipulate that there was a vacancy; it only stated that Dr Motshekga had been discharged from the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Service and was therefore no longer a member of the Committee. As a result, he was no longer the Chairperson.
Mr Van Rooyen requested that Members be allowed to see the ATC.
He expressed that he had picked up what the Secretary did not see on the ATC. The ATC discharged Mr MS Motshekga and appointed Mr V Smith as the Chairperson. This meant that there was no vacancy.
The Secretary explained that the ATC meant that Mr Smith was appointed as a member of the Committee and not as the Chairperson of the Committee.
Ms Breytenbach indicated that the ATC cannot appoint a Chairperson. The Committee elects its own Chairperson.
The Secretary stated that he had a quick look at the rules and did not see any rule which spoke about what happens when a Chairperson is no longer a member of the committee. The one he had referred the Committee was the rule which speaks on electing an acting Chairperson if the Chairperson was absent or unable to perform its function.
Ms M Mothapo (ANC) expressed that the problem was a matter of interpretation. The rule states that when the Chairperson is absent or ‘unable’ to perform its duties an acting chairperson should be elected. In the case at hand, the rule applied as the Chairperson was unable to perform his duties. It was up to the committee members to elect an acting Chairperson until such a time that the committee would be ready to elect a Chairperson. She stated that the Committee should apply the rules.
Mr Swart understood the Member’s dilemma regarding the rule. However, he explained that the rule the Members were referring to only applied in the case where a Chairman is either absent or unable to perform his/her duties. In the case it was very clear that the ATC had removed the Chairperson, the Committee no longer had a Chairperson. For the sake of progress, he thought that an acting Chairperson should be appointed just for the meeting.
Mr S Mncwabe (NFP) agreed with Mr Swart but the Committee did not have anything legal that could be quoted in the case where the Chairperson had been removed. For the sake of progress, the rule which allowed the committee to continue with the business of the day should be used. The committee should elect an acting Chairperson and agree to refer the matter for legal opinion. For the sake of the business of the day, the Committee should exhaust the legal remedy it had.
Mr G Skosana (ANC) aligned himself with Mr Swart and Ms Mothapo. If the rule states that if the Chairperson is absent or unable to perform his duties an acting Chairperson must be elected, the Committee should elect an acting Chairperson. He thought the situation the committee was in was one in which there was no Chairperson to perform duties, whether this was the old Chairperson or not was irrelevant. The Committee had to continue with the agenda for the meeting and deal with other issues later.
Mr L Mpumlwana (ANC) stated that he was slightly confused as to who gives the instructions and required guidance. He knew that it was the Committee who elects a Chairperson. However, he was not sure that it was the ATC that should remove the Chairperson. He stated that in his confusion, he agreed with the view to elect an acting Chairperson. The matter would be clarified and resolved later so that the Committee does not waste time.
Ms Breytenbach stated that it was clear that the interpretation of the rule by the members and the Secretary was incorrect. At the start of the Committee, at the beginning of the parliament, the Committee elected a Chairperson. That position was now vacant. There was no new Chairperson that was not at the meeting. The Committee should elect a new Chairperson. There was no reason at for the committee to elect an acting Chairperson. Who would the acting Chairperson be acting on behalf?
This was the first time the Committee had met since Mr Motshekga had been removed as the Chairperson. It was important for the Committee to do its job and elect a new Chairperson. She did not see what the debate was about.
The Secretary expressed that the Committee had different views on the matter. He requested that the Committee find a way to deal with the matter: it could vote on the interpretation of the rule and the way forward or the proceedings would have to be suspended in order for him to seek guidance regarding the matter.
He stated that he would also be guided by the members on the aforementioned.
Mr Maila expressed that the business of the committee could not be suspended because of a predicament that the Committee should not be in. He suggested that the Committee elects an acting Chairperson and proceed with the business of the day.
The Secretary requested to suspend the meeting for five minutes if Members allowed.
The meeting was suspended for about 20 minutes.
The Secretary asked that the committee continues with the meeting. He reiterated that the Chairperson of the committee was discharged, and the Committee did not have a Chairperson. He had attempted to have an acting Chairperson elected for the purpose of the day’s meeting and there were oppositions.
He requested the Committee to elect a full time Chairperson.
Ms Breytenbach asked if she was to understand that now that Mr Smith had been located and was part of the meeting, the Secretary had changed his position. The Committee would no longer be electing an acting Chairperson for the purpose of the day but a permanent Chairperson - something the Secretary had said could not be done ten minutes ago. She asked if her understanding was correct.
The Secretary responded that he had consulted with people and was now of the opinion that a full time Chairperson should be elected.
He asked that the Committee proceeds to call for nominations.
Ms Mothapo elected Mr V Smith to be the new Chairperson of the Committee.
Mr Mpumlwana seconded the election of Mr Smith as the new Chairperson.
Ms Breytenbach pointed out that the Secretary was supposed to be impartial.
She nominated Mr Swart to be the new Chairperson for the committee.
Mr Horn seconded the election of Mr Swart.
The Secretary put the matter to a vote.
Six out of twelve members voted for Mr Smith while five members voted for Mr Swart.
Mr Mncwabe abstained from the vote.
Mr Maila asked for a clarification of how many members were allowed to vote in the Committee.
Ms Mothapo stated that 11 members were allowed to vote.
The Secretary confirmed that 11 members was correct.
The Secretary declared Mr Smith as the new elected Chairperson of the committee and asked him to take his sit.
Remarks by the Chairperson
The new Chairperson greeted everybody. He apologised for the proceedings. He did not think that there would be ever a time where such an important committee would have a disorganised meeting.
He hoped that everybody appreciated that he had literally been put in the situation. It would be impractical or even about ticking boxes if he were to preside over a meeting he had not even looked at the documentation off. He proposed that the meeting be postponed for him to familiarise himself with the proceedings. The Committee would be asked to set up the very same agenda item as soon as possible.
Mr Swart congratulated Mr Smith on the appointment. He stated it was a close vote. He expressed that he had worked with Mr Smith for many years and it would be good to work with him on this Committee. He supported the Chairperson’s proposal, stating that it would only be fair to give him time to familiarise himself with the committee documentation as the Chairperson.
Ms Breytenbach supported Mr Swart.
Mr Skosana also congratulated Mr Smith and stated that as members of the committee they had confidence in that he would lead the Committee correctly. He also agreed that the Chairperson should be given time to familiarise himself with the committee proceedings and items on the agenda.
The Chairperson was advised that the Committee has its meetings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He assured the Committee that it would have a meeting as soon as possible and would sit on the agenda of the following week.
He thanked and everyone and adjourned the meeting.
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