National Assembly 9th Edition : May 2016
The National Assembly (NA) Rules Committee met to consider the rule on virtual meetings in terms of National Assembly Rule 6 (unforeseen eventualities), as well as the reconfiguration of the clustered system of Government for questions to Ministers. The IFP Chief Whip also raised an issue regarding chronic unanswered questions in Parliament and suggested the Committee return to a report on the matter that had been tabled in the Fifth Parliament but never reached the House.
Members were all in favour of the application of Rule 6. The Committee struggled to agree on the correct manner to reconfigure the cluster system in light of the reprioritisation under the COVID-19 pandemic circumstances. The Chairperson determined that, based on input from the members, the configuration would remain the same and the Committee would reassess any issues with this strategy in the future. She noted that there were provisions for members of Parliament to conduct questioning outside of the cluster structure using Rules 138 and 141, which allowed matters of urgency to be brought to the Speaker’s attention, thereby allowing questioning outside of the cluster environment.
Mr N Singh (IFP) asked for the opportunity to present an item for the Rule on Unanswered Questions.
The Chairperson said Mr Singh would be allowed to speak to the matter and it would then be put on the agenda for the following Committee meeting
Consideration of Draft Agenda
Ms N Mazzone (DA) moved for adoption.
The agenda was seconded by members..
Consideration of Rule on Virtual Meetings in terms of National Assembly Rule 6 (Unforeseen eventualities)
Mr Masibulule Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, said that on 15 April 2020, the Speaker had made provisions to consider the venue of virtual meetings. Cape Town would serve as the seat of Parliament in virtual meetings.
Part A – Purpose
The purpose of Rule 6 was to enable the National Assembly (NA) and its committees to hold compliant virtual meetings using technological platforms.
The Rule provided that the Speaker of the National Assembly would be able to provide a ruling or frame a rule in respect of any eventuality for which the rules or orders of the House did not provide, having due regard to the procedures, precedents, practices, and conventions developed by the House on the basis of constitutional values and principles underpinning an open, accountable, and democratic society. A rule framed by the Speaker remained in force until the House, based on a recommendation of the Rules Committee, had decided thereon.
The Rules of the National Assembly remained in operation and were supplemented by this rule in order to provide for virtual meetings.
Part B – Application of Rule
The Rule applied to: i) sittings of the National Assembly in the event of a physical sitting not being possible, as determined by the Speaker of the House; and ii) meetings of committees in the event of a physical meeting not being possible, as determined by the chairperson.
Part C – Notice and Venue of Meeting
In terms of the Rule: i) the Speaker of chairperson of a committee would issue a notice and agenda for a virtual meeting, which needed to include the date and time of the meeting; ii) all documents of the meeting would be distributed by electronic means to which Members had access; and iii) the venue of a virtual meeting would be deemed to be Cape Town as the seat of Parliament.
Part D – Privilege and Order in Meetings
The privileges of members remained the same in virtual meetings – points of order could still be raised, for example. Members’ presence would be assessed upon use of the secure link provided to join the meeting.
In a virtual meeting: i) members would have the same powers, privileges, and immunities which they ordinarily enjoyed in parliamentary proceedings; and ii) where relevant, the current rules on order in public meetings and order in debate would apply.
Part E – Presiding Officers
In a virtual meeting, the Presiding Officer or Chairperson of a committee would have all the powers as provided for in the current Rules.
Part F – Quorum
In a virtual meeting: i) the quorum requirements would be those as determined by the Constitution and the Rules; and ii) members who had accessed the meeting via the secure link sent to their email address would be deemed present for the purposes of establishing a quorum, taking a decision or voting in a matter.
Part G – Voting
In a virtual meeting: i) members would be entitled to cast their votes either electronically, by voice, or by having their vote recorded by their respective whips; ii) the procedure to be followed was determined by the Speaker of the National Assembly and directives were announced in the meeting by the Presiding Officer or Chairperson of a committee; iii) only members who were present when a vote was called would be permitted to vote; iv) the results of a vote were announced and, where possible, the names of members and how they had voted were recorded in the Minutes of Proceedings; and v) members had to ensure that their votes were correctly recorded.
For voting, there was not an available electronic voting mechanism. This would mean the committees had a reliance on the Whips of political parties to provide assistance with the names of committee members and records of their voting. Mr Xaso urged committee members to use their full names when creating their Microsoft Teams profiles and accounts for other virtual meeting platforms to assist in this regard.
The voting procedure was applicable to plenaries of the House and committee meetings.
Part H – Public Involvement
Access to proceedings needed to be facilitated in a manner consistent with participatory and representative democracy, and, wherever possible, a virtual meeting would be livestreamed.
Addendum: Process Guidelines
The Secretary to Parliament, together with authorised officials and technical teams, were responsible for technical support to facilitate virtual meetings.
The Secretariat needed to be given at least three days’ notice of a meeting.
Pre-conference testing needed to take place at least a day before the meeting.
Technical support needed to be available during a virtual meeting.
The Secretariat would maintain the minutes and record of the proceedings.
The Secretariat would maintain a system that was capable of verifying the votes cast either electronically or manually.
Political parties needed to provide a signed copy of the votes cast for and against a question by their members to the Secretariat within an agreed timeframe to ensure verification of results. This record could be submitted electronically.
The Chairperson asked for input from the members.
Ms Mazzone thanked Mr Xaso and the National Assembly Table Staff for the presentation and their research. Their involvement in the broad consultation on the matter had been incredibly helpful. The haste with which the issue had been acted on was very good and healthy.
Given the fact that the same rules of the House would be very closely adhered to in the virtual platforms was also going to be very healthy.
It was an opportunity for the party Whips to stand up and be counted by representing their parties as the important role of Whips had been highlighted in the presentation. Ms Mazzone was convinced the Whips would be able to fulfil the demands with ease. It was up to the parties to maintain supreme organisation because this would be critical to making the situation work. The party Whips needed to take responsibility on themselves for this.
She thanked the National Assembly Table led by Mr Xaso for being available during consultations. She was confident the rules adopted in the meeting would be sufficient and were in line with the Rules of the House.
Ms P Majodina (ANC) welcomed the presentation on the rules. She fully supported and endorsed them becoming rules as per Rule 6 of National Assembly rules.
She added that when entering the lockdown phase under COVID-19, Parliament had been unsure of what type of animal was being dealt with. As time went on, the system would be perfected. The different platforms being used would move towards outlining which was the best platform to stick with going forward. The ANC supported and endorsed the rules that were proposed that had already been tested since the COVID-19 lockdown.
Dr C Mulder (FF+) expressed support for rules.
He commented that if a member misbehaved during debate, their profile names would be clearly seen. Therefore, if a member misbehaved, was there a way that the presiding officers could bring the member into line as the usual measures available to presiding officers were not available in the virtual meeting space? Could members be cut off from the virtual meeting?
The Chairperson said Dr Mulder had raised a good point.
Mr Singh said the misbehavers needed to be “ejected from the House” in a virtual context.
The Chairperson said the usual protocol needed to be followed. This involved trying to get the member to sit down (or stop being disruptive where virtual meetings were concerned), and withdraw their remarks. Thereafter, the normal rules would be applied and the member would be removed from the House or cut out of the meeting – either through muting them or removing them to the waiting room of the virtual meeting arena.
Mr Singh thanked Mr Xaso for the presentation. Mr Xaso had spoken about the virtual sitting being in Cape Town. Was he re-affirming that Cape Town was where Parliament sat?
The Chairperson said the meetings were deemed to be in Cape Town.
Mr Singh asked whether members based in KwaZulu-Natal could to go to a central location like the Council room in the province and this can be beamed to Parliament. The same would apply to other based in other provinces. Could IT consider this, so as to be beamed in as a group rather than individually? This still complied with all regulations.
The Chairperson asked Mr Xaso to respond.
Mr Xaso explained that Rule 80 applied when it came to dealing with members deemed by the presiding member to be out of order. The presiding officer could disable the microphone being used by the member. There was also a waiting room for virtual platforms. The offending member could also be placed there.
On Mr Singh’s ICT question, the matter would be looked at. It was an operational matter.
Ms Majodina said Mr Xaso had not responded to the question of the Parliament seat being in Cape Town for virtual meetings.
Mr Xaso said that Advocate Zuraya Adhikarie, the Chief Parliamentary Legal Advisor, was present to respond to that. In terms of the Constitution, Cape Town was the seat of Parliament. This logic had been used. Certainty was needed on the issue of where the seat of Parliament was deemed to be.
Adv Adhikarie clarified that the Constitution considered Cape Town to be the seat of Parliament. Virtual sittings’ decisions could be taken by the Rules Committee for where the meeting venue was to be.
The Chairperson said in other words members could use holograms and put people in their seats in the House?
Advocate Adhikarie said this was correct.
Ms Majodina said the Committee needed to enrich the virtual meeting rules. It needed to be said that wherever a member was, the location needed to be considered as a seat. This was to ensure that if the member did something uncalled for, the member needed to know they were mis-representing Parliament because wherever they connected as a member they were considered to be in Parliament even if not in Parliament physically.
Adv Adhikarie said there was a difference between a seat and precinct. For the purpose of where one was in a meeting setting, the precinct could be considered to be broader than the seat.
The Chairperson asked Ms Majodina if this was clear.
Ms Majodina asked whether the rules could be made to be simpler and user friendly. Where ever a member was located should be considered a venue of Parliament whilst the member was not in Cape Town.
She asked if a clause could be added to make the matter more simplified. It did not need to be responded to at that point.
The Chairperson thanked the members. She asked Mr Xaso and Advocate Adhikarie to get fuller information and return to the Committee to address the matter.
Ms Mazzone said she had been under the impression from Mr Xaso and Advocate Adhikarie that, under the rules; all virtual meetings were deemed to have happened in Cape Town because it was the seat of Parliament. She did not understand why anything needed to be added – Cape Town was the seat of both houses of Parliament.
Mr Xaso said he would investigate the matter. He understood that the matter was as it had been described by Ms Mazzone.
Instead of changing the rules, the Committee could look at the operational guidelines. Thereby the rules remained intact as it was but the matter would be made clearer.
The Chairperson said she understood Ms Majodina to be saying that personal behaviour in the house must not disturb meetings. When in a seat, all rules applied.
Mr Singh felt it was imperative to adopt the rule as tabled that day in order to operationalise the matter and allow it to become a rule of the House as a matter of urgency.
The Chairperson asked if all the members were satisfied to support the rules as they had been put forward in the meeting.
Ms Majodina said the ANC fully supported and endorsed the rules.
Mr Singh seconded the matter.
The Chairperson said the Committee would then adopt the matter, but noted that they may want to elaborate on some parts of the rules.
The Committee would move on to Item Four on the agenda – the reconfiguration of clusters.
Consideration of Reconfiguration of the Clustered System of Government for Questions to Ministers
Mr Xaso began by providing a background to the matter of reconsideration of clusters.
In accordance with Assembly Rule 138(1), questions for oral reply by ministers needed to be dealt with in accordance with a clustered system of government portfolios as determined by the Rules Committee.
On 7 May 2020, the National Assembly Programme Committee had decided that, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the determination of the clusters would be referred to the Rules Committee.
There were currently five clusters adopted by the Rules Committee according to Rule 138(1). The current clustering of Government portfolios in the National assembly was:
Cluster One, PCE and SEC: i) Defence and Military Veterans; ii) Home Affairs; iii) International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO); iv) Police; and v) State Security.
Cluster Two, Social Services: i) Basic Education; ii) Health; iii) Higher Education, Science and Technology; iv) Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation; v) Social Development; and vi) Sports, Arts and Culture.
Cluster Three, Government: i) Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA); ii) Minister in the Presidency; iii) MIP: Women, Youth, and People with Disabilities; and iv) Public Service and Administration, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation.
Cluster Four, Economics: i) Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development; ii) Communications; iii) Employment and Labour; iv) Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries; v) Finance; and vi) Mineral Resources and Energy.
Cluster Five, Economics: i) Public Enterprises; ii) Public Works and Infrastructure; iii) Small Business Development; iv) Tourism; v) Trade and Industry; and vi) Transport.
COVID-19 Priority Areas
The following Government portfolios had been identified as priority areas with regards to the response to the pandemic by the Speaker (including with later discussion in the Chief Whips Forum): i) COGTA; ii) Health; iii) Police; iv) Trade and Industry; v) Joint Standing Committee on Defence and Military Veterans; vi) Basic Education; vii) Higher Education, Science and Technology; viii) Transport; ix) Small Business Development; x) Finance; xi) Appropriations; xii) Employment and Labour; xiii) Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation; xiv) Social Development; xv) Justice and Correctional Services; and vi) Home Affairs.
Given the identified critical portfolios for the COVID-19 response, the proposed amended clustering system could be considered. Each cluster would have seven priorities. There were options or possibilities for reconfiguration.
Cluster One: Health; COGTA; Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation; Small Business Development; Employment and Labour; Finance; and Basic Education.
Cluster Two: Defence and Military Veterans; Police; Social Development; Trade and Industry; Transport; Higher Education, Science and Technology; and Public Works and Infrastructure.
Cluster Three: Public Service and Administration; Home Affairs; Justice and Correctional Services; Public Enterprises; Mineral Resources and Energy; DIRCO; and State Security.
Cluster Four: Sports, Arts and Culture; Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development; Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries; Communications; Tourism; Minister in the Presidency (MIP); and MIP: Women, Youth and People with Disabilities.
The above four clusters could be changed or varied. However, Parliament would be proceeding with the current cluster setup for the following week’s meetings
Ms Mazzone asked if Mr Xaso could share the presentation screen with the cluster again so that it could be referred to. She thought the proposals were good.
She wondered about putting the Public Service and Administration with the Minister in the Presidency, and Women, Youth and People with Disabilities. It did not make sense to separate them into two different clusters.
She thought, for example, that Trade and Industry would be together with Transport, Finance, and Small Business. Basic Education could be the same cluster as Higher Education, Science and Technology.
However, the way the proposal was moving was in the right direction. It would be good to take the proposed cluster structure and rework it. It made more sense for those clusters that belonged in the same sector to be more closely clustered. For example, the Economic sector should be gathered more concisely together.
Mr Singh agreed with Ms Mazzone regarding the “tweaks” that needed to be made.
When questions were placed on the question paper, there was a balance of questions from each of the portfolios. Within a cluster, it needed to be ensured that questions from each portfolio were put on the paper for answering by Ministers.
Ms Majodina agreed with Mr Singh.
On the proposed clusters, she submitted that the Committee keep the current clusters as they were. When agreeing to the 16 COVID-19 issues-related priority committees, this had been at the beginning of the second term in April. However, the work of Parliament moved beyond COVID-19 and the 16 priority committees. Later on, some of the Committees or Departments were going to be affected by COVID-19. In the meantime she recommended keeping the configurations as they were but to make similar arrangements for pressing issues relating to clusters as had been done when changing from the 27 committee to the 16 committee cluster.
Mr R Dyantyi (ANC) supported Ms Majodina’s proposal. For the purposes of testing effectiveness he preferred to stay with the current proposed clusters. Of the five clusters, the economic cluster was always divided into two. To go back to this would not be helpful. He understood Ms Mazzone’s issue of coherence. This could still be remedied within the arrangement of the four proposed cluster structure. While going along under COVID-19, the Committee could see where changes could be made as and when was needed.
Dr G Koornhof (ANC) said that when the COVID-19 portfolio committees had first been proposed there had been 16. These were originally meant for portfolio committee meetings. This had developed further as Parliament had started to look at budget votes. More committees had begun to meet than the originally identified 16 to look at the budget 2020 votes. This period was now coming to an end. The 16 committees identified for COVID-19 specifically had been overtaken by events. In the Committee meetings paper, there were more committees meeting than the identified 16.
At the current moment, Cabinet was still keeping to the cluster structure as before. He wished to propose and support the Chief Whip of the majority party to keep the clusters as they were. The two sets of clusters originally had worked so well because they balanced one another from the executive and legislative sides. Changing the clusters could lead to unintended consequences. He suggested keeping to the current clusters, test the system, and if it did not work, reconsider the system.
Mr J Julius (DA) said the reason for the point on the agenda was that Parliament wanted the urgency of issues to be responded to by Ministers. There was a crisis in the country. Parliament could not continue as if nothing had happened. The convenience of clusters and ministers came second to the issues of the people. Currently these issues were issues of the pandemic. This was the reason it had been said that Parliament had to ask questions and hold government accountable not for the sake of it but for the people of the country during the pandemic. The urgency of the matter necessitated that those portfolios, departments and ministers most related to the crisis be looked at first. This was the reason for putting the matter on the Committee’s agenda in the first place. He proposed to go with the new clusters for COVID-19 responses.
Dr Mulder tried to understand if the position of the ANC was to make no changes to the clusters and keep the configuration the way that is had been before any changes had been proposed. If this was the case, then why had the memo been put on the agenda for the meeting? It had been discussed in the Chief Whips Forum. There was a feeling that prominence should be given to the portfolios that were most affected by the pandemic. The purpose of the clusters was so that the Executive could be kept in check by the Legislature.
The budget issue was a separate matter. Parliament needed to provide transparency and accountability to specific matters relating to COVID-19 operations at that moment in time. He added the ANC proposal was not acceptable.
Ms Majodina clarified that what was being said is that COVID-19-related matters were as important as other matters. It had been agreed to prioritise COVID-19 at that time. In order to prioritise, the reconfiguration of clusters was not automatically necessitated.
She proposed to lift the departments or portfolios that were COVID-19 related without having to re-cluster the Committees. This would keep the five clusters as they were. If, as a matter of urgency, one needed to get information from cross-cluster sources, they could be drawn from the structures, rather than reconfiguring the cluster structure.
She said she was not undermining the need to hold government accountable. This was Parliament’s responsibility. But she did not wish to de-establish the clusters that were there currently. Rather, she wished to find a way of combining them. This was the reason why it had been said in the Chief Whips Forum that Clusters Two and Three would be combined because, from Cluster Three, the only critical Committee for COVID-19 matters was COGTA. The arrangement needed to stay in place until thorough evaluation had been conducted.
The Chairperson said that members were saying almost the same thing. One was that the clusters had been set in such a way that there needed to be tightening of other departments being put with others. This had been raised by Ms Mazzone.
Second, the ANC had said they agreed with the sentiment, but wished to keep the clusters as they were originally, but have flexibility as and when the need arose to work outside of that structure according to urgency. This would allow members to pull out a cluster or question from a department that was not necessarily included unless it was based on urgency. She suggested moving forward by looking at what was the most urgent matter to be dealt with, whether a question could come from outside a cluster and be flexible enough to accommodate it when it was urgent enough. However, it was important to look beyond COVID-19 and retain the clusters as they were so that there was institutional flexibility whilst maintaining what had worked in the past.
Ms Mazzone said she heard and appreciated the Chairperson’s willingness to look at matters based on urgency. This would be an unnecessary burden on the Chairperson. When the DA decided, for example, that the Department of Health needed to urgently answer questions, but the Department did not fall within the cluster necessarily, the party would have to write to the Chairperson as Speaker of the House and ask her to adjust the rules to allow the questioning. She did not think that anyone in Parliament had the authority to bypass the rules of parliament to allow for an urgent addition to the specific clusters. There were bold and good natured intentions in the sentiment voiced by the Chairperson, but it would not be a possibility given the current rules. However, she was open to an alternative if she had misinterpreted the rules in any way.
The Chairperson responded with an example of a court ruling on the death of a citizen at the hands of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). She asked whether Parliament should not be interested in the ruling on the matter. Parliament needed to hear from the relevant Ministers and be informed what actions were being taken in that situation. This kind of flexibility was needed always – the Department of Defence could not make Parliament wait and address the matter “later on”. It was an urgent matter.
Ms Mazzone said she was in complete agreement that what the Chairperson had said needed to happen. She was concerned that Parliament did not allow the Speaker of the House, and thereby the Chairperson, the discretion to do so. In the example the Chairperson had given of bringing the Security Service to account to Parliament, she was concerned the rules did not allow for the scenario described by the Chairperson.
The Chairperson said that members of Parliament had such an instrument already regarding matters of national interest. Members had used this instrument to bring matters to the fore previously. This was a separate process from having the formal question and answer system of Parliament.
Mr Xaso said there were two relevant rules that would arise in the context of the discussion – Rules 138 and 141. Rule 138 said that questions for response from Ministers would be dealt with in accordance with the clustered system of government as determined by the Rules Committee. The starting point was within the specific cluster. Rule 141 dealt with urgent questions. It read as follows: “A member may request the Speaker in writing to allow an urgent question for oral reply to be put to a relevant minister at the next question session for ministers in the House, regardless of whether that minster falls within the ministerial cluster for that day”. Where a question was not urgent, it would not be allowed and needed to be asked in the cluster. Where a question was urgent it would receive priority, even if outside of the cluster.
Mr Singh commented that what Mr Xaso had said is what he had been thinking about, it was the sunset clause. No member of the House was denied from writing to the Speaker and saying that they had an urgent question that required answering. For the sake of progress he suggested the Committee combine Clusters Two and Three for 27 May 2020. Let them take Clusters One and Five, for example, for the following question and then take a different two clusters moving forward to see how the system worked with the proviso that the rules applied to elevate urgent questions through the Speaker.
The Chairperson asked Mr Xaso about combining Cluster One and Cluster Five.
Mr Xaso said he and his team would be guided by the Committee members. The matter was resolved for the following week’s sitting, where Cluster Two and Three would be combined. Thereafter, it was a matter of reaching political agreement on the future arrangement and combination of clusters. Given there was no consensus on the matter, it may be a matter that needed to be referred back to the parties for consultation.
The Chairperson said that the rule was in place for Parliament to rely on for urgent matters. The reason Mr Xaso had been brought back in was to look at Mr Singh’s suggestions of combining Cluster One and Cluster Five for the next question session.
Dr Mulder said that Mr Singh’s proposal was a compromise. It could assist to allow a quicker flow through the clusters. He asked for clarity about which body of Parliament would take the decision for every week thereafter. Would it be the Programme Committee after consultation with the chief whips?
Ms Majodina supported Mr Singh’s proposal. In response to Dr Mulder, she stated that after the Chief Whips Forum, they would let the NAPC know which two clusters had been agreed upon to appear for questions.
Mr Julius asked for the perspective of the arguments to be put in context. He maintained that the priority clusters for COVID-19 needed to go ahead. He sought to understand the ANC’s reasoning for why the clusters should remain, apart from the fact that the ministers in the priority clusters would not be held accountable. He thought this was the point of the ANC, to prevent these ministers from being held accountable. The members had already lost their oversight role on the Command Council as Parliament which he thought was unconstitutional. On top of this, urgent questions could not be asked because as a rule of Parliament, it was only one or two questions that would be limited to the cluster in question. He did not feel that this did justice to the pandemic.
The Chairperson said Mr Julius had been heard, but did not understand how the proposal was unconstitutional. What needed to be done was to say that Parliament and the Committee itself were operating in an unusual business situation. A compromise had been suggested that was to say the Committee agreed for the next cluster. There was an input that said keep the clusters as they were but move to the matters as they appeared to be urgent.
The Chairperson asked if the compromise could be agreed upon – to keep the clusters as they were? She then recommended the Committee to return to the matter and determine whether the original clusters would stay as they were or the COVID-19 clusters would stay as they were. The key thing was not to get stuck. Members of the Executive could be held accountable individually and collectively. This route was open to the members of Parliament always.
Ms Majodina said it would be incorrect to leave Mr Julius’ strong accusations that her proposal had been made to defend ministers. The members were not representing any minister in the Committee. Views were expressed as a member of the Rules Committee. No one was saying Parliament should be unable to exert accountability.
Rule 141 allowed for members’ applications to ask an urgent question if the matter fell outside of the cluster configuration. She wished to reject that she was defending ministers. She asked Mr Julius to debate the matter at hand and not accuse the ANC of such things.
The Chairperson said it was important to finalise the matter amicably as members. The job was not to cover for any ministers; it was to cover the citizens and the country through accountability and oversight. It did not matter if this was in a debate, oral or written questions. She did not want the meeting to degenerate into accusations. She asked the members to prioritise South Africans.
The conclusion was that the members would be agreeing with Mr Singh’s suggestions of combining Cluster One and Cluster Five to ensure the question session after the next week’s sitting would be productive. The second conclusion was that two rules were already available to members to deal with matters of urgency, and put forward relevant matters for debate.
In the meantime it was agreed to keep matters as they were and the Rules Committee would return to the matter after discussion at the Chief Whips Forum and after it had been filtered at the Programming Committee, so as to determine whether to maintain the clusters or to look at future reconfiguration. She wished to leave the matter at that.
The Chairperson afforded Mr Singh an opportunity to present an item to the Committee for consideration.
Mr Singh’s Proposal
Mr Singh said his issue fitted in neatly with what had been spoken about in the last few minutes of the meeting. There was an issue of unanswered questions being a perennial problem. The Speaker held dear to her heart the importance of Parliament being able to exert its ability to hold to account in theory and in practice. However, there were currently close to 300 unanswered questions in the list made available to members the previous week. He noted that some portion of blame for the high number was due to COVID-19 priorities, but some of the unanswered questions had been outstanding since 13 February 2020.
He had in his possession a report from the previous Rules Committee that had been tabled and considered in the Fifth Parliament but not adopted. It had made good recommendations to establish a subcommittee to call Ministers in to account for unanswered questions. He suggested the current Committee unearth the report from the archive and review and evaluate it before tabling it in Parliament.
The Chairperson asked Mr Xaso to deal with the matter. She asked whether the report was from the current or previous Parliament and how to deal with the report.
Mr Xaso said the report was from the Fifth Parliament. The Rules Committee had considered the matter in terms of Rule 136. It had been proposed to establish a system to monitor and report regularly to the House on questions that had been endorsed as unanswered on the question paper. The Rules subcommittee committee considered the matter and then it was referred to the Rules Committee. The report was tabled and there had been a request at subsequent Rules Committee meetings that there needed to be further consultation on the report before it went to the House. The Fifth Parliament came to an end before this was done. He proposed circulating the report to the Sixth Parliament and the current Rules Committee should express itself on the matter and the report in question. If the Committee was happy with the reports content, the Committee could put the matter back to the House and the House could consider it.
The Chairperson asked Mr Singh if the proposal was fair.
Mr Singh said it was fair, but that it needed to be dealt with sooner rather than later. He wished to bring it to the attention of the leader of government business of the unacceptable situation that was going on. He hoped to adopt the report when it came before the House.
The Chairperson said it was a serious matter that had been brought to the leader of Government business and she was awaiting the response. She wished to let the Committee have the report, consider it, return it to the House and make whatever recommendations that had been made, then follow through.
She asked if any of the other members had any inputs on the matter.
Mr Xaso said the decision taken earlier on the combination of the two clusters would have to be ratified by the Programme Committee. He wished to notify the members that the matter fell within the scope of that Committee.
The Chairperson said that if there was no other input, then she wished to move to the next agenda item, which was closure.
Ms Mazzone agreed.
Mr Singh seconded.
The meeting was adjourned.
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