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NATIONAL ASSEMBLY RULES COMMITTEE
21 June 2002
These minutes were provided by the National Assembly Table Staff
Chairperson: The Speaker, Dr F Ginwala
Andrew, K M
Cassirn, M F
Doidge, G Q M
Jeffery, J J
Maine, M S
Mfilndisi, I S
Nel, A C
Seaton, S A
Van Wyk, A
Chauke, H P
Green, L M
Maluleke, D K
Mbuyazi, L R
Montsitsi, S D
Also in attendance: Dithebe, S L; Gerber, P A; Mabe, L; Mohlala, k J B; Scheeman, GD.
Staff in attendance: Hahndiek, K; Ismail, N; Mansura, M K; Karreman, R; Tololetsane, M.
Apologies: Aucamp, C; Frolick, C T; De Lange J H (present at scheduled start of meeting); Greyling, C H F; Jordan, Z P; Kota, Z; Scott, MI; Van der Merwe, J H;
The Deputy Speaker took the Chair.
1. Minutes of 2 May 2002
On page 1: Mr Mfundisi was present and his name should be deleted from apologies
The minutes were adopted on the motion of Mr Jeffery seconded by Ms Seaton.
2. New Question Procedure
The committee considered the document entitled "National Assembly Rules on Questions" April 2002 (typographical update May 2002).
Mr Nel said that the proposals that were before the Rules Committee emanated from a process that had began at the Chief Whips' Forum and parties had looked at the proposals. There was consensus on most of the proposals and disagreement on some as indicated in the document. The ANC had circulated further amendments that would be proposed.
The Chairperson suggested that the committee look at the original document distributed to members rather than the ANC proposals. The ANC could make their proposals at the appropriate time.
RULE 107: Notice and placing of questions
Rule 107(4) - Mr Ellis gave notice that the DP would raise concerns regarding Rule I 09(2A) which may affect this rule.
Rule 107 was agreed to.
RULE 108: Form and arran2ement of questions
RULE 108 (6)
Mr Jeffery put forward the ANC proposed amendment to Rule 108(6): To delete the subrule and replace it with:
"A question that is submitted for oral reply must be placed on the Question Paper for reply at least six working days prior to the Question day on which it is to be replied to."
He said that this was merely a reformulation of the rule to make it more readable and user friendly.
Mr Ellis said that in order to make question time more relevant the DP proposes that questions be placed on the Question Paper three days in advance and not six days as proposed by the ANC.
Ms Seaton supported the proposal by Mr Ellis.
The proposal of the ANC to Rule 108(6) was agreed (the objection of Mr Ellis and Ms Seaton were noted).
Mr Ellis said that the DP would prefer a random draw - rather than parties prioritizing questions - as it would give all parties an equal chance.
The Speaker said that the fundamental problem was that questions were submitted by individual members, not parties. Therefore if one approached the rules as covering the right of individual members, one could not at the same time speak of "authorized party representatives".
Ms Seaton said that she supported rule 108(7).
Mr Jeffery said that the principle contained in this rule applied equally to notices of motions. He added that a random draw could lead to very boring question time as any question could come up. In addition the ANC would have a greater probability of being drawn on a random basis.
Mr Nhleko said that a random draw does not guarantee fairness. He added that the Executive was accountable to Parliament and not to any opposition party.
The Speaker said that the system should allow for certain amount of time to be given to every party but it should be accepted that the majority party would have the most time. A combined system of proportionality and random draw could be the solution. She pointed out that the Government was accountable to Parliament and not to particular members or parties.
The rule was agreed to ~P recorded their objection).
The Speaker queried the meaning of "rotation on a continuous basis".
It was agreed that the rule be reformulated as follows:
"'The sequence of questions on the Question Paper rotates without interruption for the duration of an annual session according to the order in which members of the respective parties may put questions. That order is determined by the Chief Whips' Forum from time to time."
Rule 108, as amended, agreed to (DP and IFP recording their objection).
RULE 109: Questions to Ministers
Mr Ellis said that the DP argues for two clusters, as it would allow for questions to be put more regularly to Ministers.
The Speaker said that the rule was giving decision-making functions to a body (Chief
Whips' Forum) that did not have decision-making functions. She suggested that the note
suggesting an amendment to Rule 221, to give decision-making functions to the Chief
Whips' Forum, could be looked at later.
Mr Jeffery said that the reason for identifying the Chief Whips' Forum was merely to find a multi-party body that could take such decisions. He suggested that the Rules Committee could be that body.
The Speaker said that she had no problem with Rule 109(1) but that she would want to come back to the consequential amendment i.e. Rule 221.
Rule 109(1) was agreed.
Mr Ellis said that it was inconceivable that a party could be compelled to ask a question to a particular Minister and the DP could not agree to this.
It was agreed that Rule 109(2A) be deleted.
Rule 109 (3) (b)
Mr Jeffery put forward the ANC proposed amendment to delete the words "to accommodate questions to that Minister" at the end of the sentence. He said that the present proposal meant that question time could be increased by an hour and a half if three Ministers had been absent and were required to answer questions out of their cluster i.e. 3 x 30 minutes. The ANC's proposal would mean that the subrule would read" an additional 30 minutes be added to the question time for that session."
There was no objection to the proposal by Mr Jeffery.
Mr Ellis said that the DP would prefer 10 questions per Minister.
Mr Jeffery said that an increase in the number of questions from 8 to 10 would impact on the capacity of Ministries to prepare answers to questions.
The Speaker said that if Ministries had problems they should communicate this to Parliament.
Mr Andrew said that if Ministries had problems they could approach the member concerned and members could try to assist. He added that with the larger number of parties in the National Assembly a larger number of questions to Ministers made good sense.
Ms Seaton supported the proposal for 10 questions.
Mr Green said the point made by Mr Ellis was valid.
Mr Miundisi supported the view that there should be 10 questions per Minister, as it would provide a greater pool of questions to Ministers.
Mr Masutha said that it would serve no useful purpose to increase the number of questions to a Minister as the two hours allocated to question time is not to be increased.
Mr Jeffery said that there had been discussions on increasing question time but there was general agreement that this would lead to question time becoming boring.
The Speaker said that it might be worthwhile to consider limiting the total number of questions per question day as only a certain number of questions are answered in the two hours allocated to questions.
Mr Jeffery said that for the sake of progress the ANC would accept the proposal of 10 questions per Minister but that the proposal of the Speaker to limit the number of questions should be looked at again on another occasion.
It was agreed that Rule 109(5) be amended to read:
"The number of questions to a Minister is limited to ten questions per question day in respect of any one department of state."
RULE 110 Questions to the Deputy President
Mr Jeffery said that the present system of a two stage approach i.e. first submitting questions and a week later prioritizing these questions led to unnecessary work being done on questions that did not come up for reply. He proposed that if only prioritized questions were submitted it would assist the processing of replies.
He therefore proposed that subrule (6) be added to this Rule as follows:
"(6) Notwithstanding rule 107, questions to the Deputy President must be submitted by the party representatives in a prioritized order within the time frames provided for in rule
Mr Ellis said that Mr Jeffery was looking at the issue through the eyes of the Executive rather than through the eyes of Parliament. He suggested that the amendment proposed would shorten the time for submission of questions by parties by some 6 days and would impact on the relevance of questions.
Mr Jeffery' said that there would be no shortening of the period for submitting questions as suggested by Mr Ellis.
Ms van Wyk said that it would shorten the period for parties to prioritize their questions, thereby affecting relevance. A lot could happen in two weeks.
The Speaker said that she could not understand why the time for prioritization of questions had to be extended.
Mr Jeffery said that as only four questions are asked to the Deputy President he could not understand why so many more questions are allowed to be initially put.
The Speaker suggested that the number of questions submitted could be limited. Then a shorter period could be allowed for prioritization.
Ms Seaton agreed with the suggestion of limiting the number of questions. She however felt that parties should be allowed to prioritize their questions one week in advance
Mr Jeffery, as a compromise, suggested members be allowed to submit initial questions later but that these should be prioritized questions. At the moment questions had to be submitted 13 days in advance and prioritization had to be done 7 days in advance of the question day. He suggested that prioritized questions be submitted 10 days in advance
The Deputy Speaker asked whether one week's notice would be a problem, if the focus was on questions that would be answered.
It was agreed that the question that a party is to ask (prioritized question) to the Deputy President must be submitted by 12:00 on the Monday the week before the Wednesday on which the Deputy President is to answer the questions.
RULE 111 - Questions to the President
Mr Jeffery submitted a proposal that rule 111(1) read as follows:-
Rule 111(1): "Questions to the President must be -
(a) scheduled for a question day once every parliamentary term; and..."
Mr Ellis suggested that Parliament might decide to refer to one year as one term. He therefore suggested that the rule should indicate that the President answers questions four times a year.
Mr Nnleko said that once a term was more acceptable.
The Speaker said that the rule needed to accommodate circumstances when the President was unable for a good reason not to take questions in a particular term. The President should be allowed an additional opportunity to answer questions in the following term.
It was agreed to reformulate the subrule as follows.
Questions to the President must be -(a) scheduled for a question day at least once per term; and ~) limited to matters of national and international importance - and that the word "term" be clarified.
if the President is not available in a particular term he would be asked to answer twice in the next term.
Mr Ellis said that the rule provided for questions to be put to the President 16 days in advance of the day on which they were to be answered. He asked for the period to be reduced drastically as a longer period impacted negatively on the relevance of the questions asked. He proposed 9 days notice as for the Deputy President.
Mr Jeffery said that the processing of the questions took longer as the questions had to be sifted by the Speaker.
Mr Nel said that the questions to the President should be broad, conceptual and policy orientated questions and the matter of relevance was therefore not as important. He added that the 16 days was not long.
Ms Seaton said that she supported the shorter period as the questions had to be relevant.
The Speaker said that if parties could prioritize questions before the questions are submitted to her for sifting it would assist the process.
Mr Green, as a compromise, proposed 12 days.
Mr Andrew said that as the questions are on national and international policy issues, the President should be on top of these issues and there was therefore no need to submit the questions far in advance.
Ms van Wyk said that if the Speaker's suggestion of submitting prioritized questions, was agreed it would save time.
Mr Hahndiek said that parties sometimes submit more than one question because they do not know which question would be acceptable and which question would not fall within the scope of questions to the President. During the vetting process by the Speaker some questions are ruled out of order as, for example, they fall under a line ministry. After the vetting process parties are informed of the acceptable questions and they then prioritize the questions. Parties therefore do sometimes submit more than one question, as they do not know which will be rejected at the vetting stage.
The Speaker suggested that if parties could be a little more careful, take responsibility and consult staff on questions that may be a line function question before actually submitting the question then a shorter time for submitting questions could be justified. The Speaker's role could be limited to cases where there was a dispute.
Mr Jeffery said that this was asking a lot of parties. In theory it sounded good but in practice as the Speaker had to decide whether they covered matters of national or international importance the suggestion would not work:
The Deputy Speaker said that parties must accept that there should be time for the processing of questions to be completed.
It was agreed that questions to the President be submitted 16 days before the question day be accepted.
RULE 112 - Urgent questions
Mr Ellis said that the DP would prefer a two-day notice period rather than seven days.
Mr Jeffery said that this rule was to provide for questions to Ministers who are not due to answer.
The Speaker said that she needed to consult the Leader of Government Business on the availability of the Minister and that sometimes took time.
The rule as presented was agreed to.
RULE 113 - Times allocated and time limits - agreed to. RULE 114 - Unanswered questions
It was agreed that "Order Paper" be changed to "Question Paper".
RULE 115 - Questions standing over - agreed to.
RULE 116 - Form and placing of questions (Questions for written rely) - agreed to.
RULE 117- Written reply not given
Mr Jeffery proposed as an amendment to add subrule (2) as follows:
17(2) If a reply to a question placed on the Question Paper for oral reply in terms of subrule (1) is submitted in writing to the Secretary not later than 12:00 on the Question day (to) on which it is to be replied to, the question must not be called in the House."
The proposal was agreed to.
Mr Ellis said that the DP would not be supporting the rule amendments to questions.
The Speaker took the Chair
3. Quorum requirements and Sanctions
The Speaker said that she had distributed the document on sanctions as promised. The document provided for:
· a leave document which parties should look at and make proposals for additional grounds for leave if they wish.
· deduction of a day's salary calculated on the basis of Parliamentary working days.
· the verification of member's presence m the Chamber could now be done and members would be required to swipe their cards when they come into or go out of the Chamber. The system has been tested and does work. She suggested that on _Tuesday of next week members would be asked to use their cards when entering and exiting the Chamber.
For Committee meetings members will have to sign in and committee clerks will have to check that it is not just a signing in and walking out process. This must be controlled through party discipline.
The Speaker proposed that the process start on the first plenary day when members return (8 August 2002). She added that a Rules Committee meeting would have to be held during the committee week when members return and parties could put forward any amendments at that point.
4. Implementation of Rule 105: Statements by Members
The Speaker said that this rule is not being implemented. She added that the notice of motion period was not being used for notices of motions but rather for parties to have their say on whatever they like. She suggested that statements by members now be allowed for 15 minutes every day - 1 minute per member. She asked parties to look at the issue and come back to the next meeting with positions.
Crossing the floor legislation: Practical implications and requirements
The Speaker said the courts had decided that the full bench would hear the interdict submitted by the UDM on Monday, 24 June 2002. The State Attorney was appealing the interdict on the grounds that the court is asking to stop something that had already commenced. If on Monday the court decides to uphold the appeal by the State Attorney the forms submitted by members would be accepted from the time the window period opened. if the court decides against the State Attorney then the forms will be invalidated.
She added that the moment the forms are deposited the member would have crossed the floor. If that member were to die after the form was deposited the seat would have already crossed. The legislation says that the House will be reconstituted after the notice is published in the Government Gazette of all the crossings. The Rules Committee will therefore have to look at the implications of the reconstitution of the House on the functioning of the House. The 19-points document handed out to member's gives an indication of the matters that might need attention.
The Speaker said that she had received a number of complaints about intimidation, threats and inducements to members. Her response in every case was that the member concerned had to bring the complaint to her otherwise it would be very difficult for her to act. She added that it was unacceptable that such practices should be tolerated in any democratic Parliament. She would look at the Rules to see if any action could be taken. Otherwise legislation would have to deal with it. The credibility of politicians would be undermined if this practice was allowed.
6. Notice of Motion ruled out of order
The Speaker suggested that in view of time constraints this matter be deferred to the next meeting.
7. Structures of Parliament
The Speaker said that at the moment the rules are a fiction in terms of the powers of the Chief Whips' Forum, the powers of the Program Committee and the alleged powers of the Speaker. As an example she cited that she had to sign committee membership when parties decide on membership of committees. She added that if parties were going to make decisions they needed to take the responsibility. Structures could be created for this.
She said that both she and Mrs Pandor tabled problems regarding the budget of
Parliament and these problems were again going to arise in regard to the PFMA and in
Powers and Privileges legislation. She said that, as Speaker, she was not prepared to take
legal responsibility on financial and other matters when the rules provide that the rules
Committee actually takes these decisions.
Similarly there are other functions given to members for which the Presiding Officers are held responsible. She said that responsibility should be given to those people who have the decision-making powers. She suggested the establishment of a multiparty directing authority (which was on the table in the early days and which members had not taken up) that would form a simple forum for liaison between the democratically established institution of Parliament and the Management Board.
She asked members to consider this in principle and in particular to look at the implications in respect of the PMFA of what is being done because she did not intend taking that legal responsibility. The Speaker added that she and Mrs Pandor had tabled a document in January of this year to which no party had responded.
She added that last year, when the arms deal matter came up, she had raised a number of issues that she believed the Speaker was required to do. Parties took it as a party political issue but there were serious considerations of a constitutional and legal nature that she had raised.
She said that she was no longer going to accept this situation. If the concerns that she raised were not addressed she was no longer prepared to preside over this Parliament. She said that the matters would have to be addressed very, very quickly as parties were abdicating their responsibilities.
The meeting adjourned at 14:55.
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