Video: Subcommittee on the Review of Assembly Rules, 5 February 2021
On the matter of the Chief Whips Forum, the Rules Subcommittee felt that the need for consistency and continuity was paramount. Whilst smaller parties should have a say, the weekly meeting demands continuity in representation. If a party change the members, it will remove the essence of the Forum and disturb its proceedings. This meant that alternates not be present when the main Member was present. There was discussion on whether it was justified for smaller parties to be represented by the Whip of another party in that setting, with many Members arguing that they should have their own representation and others raising the concern of maintaining consensus with representatives who were unfamiliar with the deliberations.
On the 29 July 2020 ruling of Mr Dyantyi in the House that led to a Member of Parliament being removed from the virtual platform, the Subcommittee agreed that before deciding on the principle of the ruling, it should invite Ms Mkhaliphi and Mr Dyantyi to make oral or written submissions.
The existing time for declarations of vote that totalled 46 minutes was supported. The EFF made a proposal for 40 minutes but this was not accepted.
On the frequency of the Deputy President’s question time, the EFF proposal was accepted that the Deputy President answer question once per quarter rather than once a month to encourage substantive discussion.
The Subcommittee accepted the recommendation of the Secretary to the National Assembly that there be two or three mini-plenaries in a day meaning that more items could be debated. This especially worked well for smaller parties as the complaint is that their motions often do not end up being debated.
On unanswered Written Questions by Members of the Executive, it was agreed that the Committee Secretariat submit the mechanism the Fifth Parliament Subcommittee agreed to ensure accountability.
Composition of Chief Whips Forum
Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, explained that the document entitled ‘Document on Matters referred to the Subcommittee on Rules’ which had been circulated was a regurgitation of what the Rules currently state about the composition of the Chief Whips Forum. The question that needs to be answered is whether all the parties necessarily must be represented in the Forum. A strict application of the Rules as they are currently does not provide for this. Rule 257(d) speaks of ‘the most senior whip of each of the other parties represented in the Assembly.’ Not all parties in the National Assembly (NA) have Whips. This was subject to his double-checking the point, but as far as he understood some smaller parties are grouped together and have two or three Whips representing them. If the Subcommittee were to accept the rule as it currently stands, it would only be those Whips who attend the Forum. In practice, however, when memos are sent out to the Forum, the memos are addressed to ‘Chief Whips and party representatives’ because there is a recognition that some people who sit in the Forum are not Chief Whips or Whips. Looking at the strict understanding of the title ‘Chief Whip,’ in law, there are basically two Chief Whips that are recognised—that of the majority party and that of the opposition.
The first issue is if all the parties should be represented, or if the rule should be applied as it currently stands. Secondly, the Subcommittee is to decide whether the Forum Rules should allow for alternate Members to attend when the main member is unable to attend. Thirdly, if the Rules say ‘most senior Whip or a member from each party,’ should it then be acceptable that there could be two or three Members from the same party attending at the same time. Lastly, when it comes to Portfolio Committee meetings, any Member can attend any meeting, but may not vote, as the Chairperson determines. The Forum, however, is a closed meeting, which is unlike typical parliamentary meetings. By virtue of it being closed, it means that some of the issues discussed are confidential in nature and are meant to be kept within the parameters of the Whippery of the House. These were the issues now being raised for consideration.
Mr Xaso suggested that the Committee consider requesting that Ms Mazzone table the proposal in writing if it was not properly understood by all the members, so that the proposal is understood as it is more extensive in scope, also speaking to the counsellors of the President and Deputy President who are not necessarily covered by the rule, but who attend nevertheless. The proposal, in a sense, affirms current practice.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Xaso for presenting the issues to the Subcommittee.
Mr Q Dyantyi (ANC) appreciated the briefing by Mr Xaso and the connection to Ms Mazzone’s presentation, who he said had written in the chat that she had sent what she presented in 2019. He asked Ms Mazzone to send the document again. On alternates, Rule 257(4) says Rule 156 does not apply to this Forum. Rule 156 is about alternates and he would like it to be kept as it is. He echoed that the Forum is a co-ordinating and consensus body, as Ms Mazzone puts it. In his view, this Forum should be about building relations amongst the parties. It is important to emphasise that the Forum is not a decision-making body. He wanted to make the point up front, as he would be elaborating on it later, that whilst it is for consensus in its nature, the kind of consensus that comes out of the Forum has the effect of influencing decision-making. He repeated that the consensus has the ability to influence decision making. He used an example saying that the Forum would meet and agree that the House is not meeting. It is a body for consensus, but all the parties within it agreed for the House not to meet. This decision would affect parties that are not a part of the Forum. There is a thin line to tread because in its designation, the Forum is for consensus and co-ordination, but some of its effect and impact can produce this kind of decision. He would stop there because this is the kind of discussion that would be held if one day the issue ended up in a court room. On behalf of the ANC, he supported points 1(a) to (c) on the Forum composition as summarised in the document on Matters referred to the Subcommittee. The list says that the following may attend the forum: House Chairpersons; Chief Whip of the Majority Party; Deputy Chief Whip of the Majority Party.
He thought it made perfect sense that the two counsellors of the President and Deputy President be included as Ms Mazzone suggested. He has no problem with the official opposition represented by its Chief Whip and the Deputy Chief Whip, because it ensures that Members know who the people are. There is a problem of chopping and changing and for consistency and continuity, there cannot be different faces in different meetings. When this is the case, the Forum will face issues of accountability as parties will be unable to account or will say that they were not present in the last meeting. He wholeheartedly agreed with the point on consistency and continuity.
On point 1(d), he thought that all other parties be represented by a consistent person. If that person is absent for reasons beyond their control, there should be proper process and procedure to delegate the next person. As things stand, there are smaller parties who are being represented by other parties. He did not think that on any day if they were go to court the Subcommittee would win such a case. Parties who are in Parliament have won elections and have a right to participate in decision-making processes and even in consensus-building forums. He would like the language to be changed to ‘other parties represented by one person' so no one is left out while attending to the issue of chopping and changing and ensuring continuity.
Ms N Mazzone (DA) said that she would gladly re-submit her paper.
Dr M Ndlozi (EFF) said that the problems raised by Ms Mazzone are not problems with the Rules. As far as he is concerned, the Rules are okay, with the exception of not making provision for parties which do not have whips. It should make provision for the most senior Whip or a member that a political party designates. The nature of the Forum requires that it be kept as it stands and there must just be agreement about consistency of the Whips that are there and that they are the only ones that must come.
On alternates, this mechanism is because sometimes certain Whips legitimately cannot make it, and they send another whip so that a specific discussion has a specific contribution from a specific party. As the Forum is a consensus building body, that flexibility must be left open. If is straight-jacketed, it might lose its efficacy as a consensus building body. He thought that the House Chairpersons, Chief Whip of the majority party, Deputy Chief Whip of the majority party and the most senior Whips of all other political parties are enough and did not see a problem with the rule. If at some point in the meeting, the DA brings another Whip because the Chief Whip is not there, it should not be a crisis because that person will be there to build consensus and ensure that the function of the Whippery is fulfilled. If it is not taken in that light, he did not understand the function of a body that does not take decisions but is concerned with consensus building, yet loses the very flexibility that it needs. The only amendment he was persuaded by was 1(d) speaking to the need to find all the parties who do not have Whips, to also find expression.
Mr Gerard Koornhof, Parliamentary Counsellor for the President, spoke to the point raised by Mr Dyantyi on the representation of the smaller parties in the Forum – specifically, the parties who have only one member in Parliament. He recalled that on Questions, the smaller parties have an agreement that they can be represented by a member of a bigger party. In that case he thought that it was an IFP representative. He raised this from a practical perspective that smaller parties are stretched for time and it may not be practical to avail themselves for every Forum meeting; whereas, they elect someone to represent them and get the information. After the Forum meeting that person would give the recommendations of the Forum to all the smaller parties so that everybody is on the same page. This was from a practical perspective, because although all 13 parties could be represented, it may be better for some of them to volunteer to be represented by another as long as they receive the Forum recommendations.
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) said that the Chief Whip’s Forum is called this for a reason. It is desirable that this be maintained. Within the spirit of deepening a multi-party democracy, it will be correct to extend access to other parties however, those parties should submit the names of the Members who would be attending the Forum. A party may opt to invite a Whip who is not necessarily a Chief Whip or a Deputy Chief Whip. This can be done for tactical reasons. The rationale for submitting names, even in Committees, is for the smooth-running of the Committee as well as consistency and continuity. If a party chooses to change the members, it will remove the essence of the Forum and disturb its proceedings on matters already deliberated on and delay matters. She did not, however, think that time was the most important factor, but that professionalism and continuity could be affected. She worried that if this was effected, it would impede the quality of issues that come before the House as they may not have been properly processed in the Forum before being presented to the House. In short, she supported Ms Mazzone’s proposal and Mr Dyantyi’s comments as she thought they were the proper and professional way and would lead to good governance.
The Chairperson said that the Chief Whips Forum works best when it is consistent. There is nothing wrong with having alternates, however, as the Forum meets every Thursday, there is an expectation that there is no need to re-open discussions. Having alternates who are not properly briefed can be disruptive as discussions may have already previously been concluded. As Mr Koornhof said smaller parties used to have two representatives which also used to be problematic. Since the Chief Whips Forum is not a decision making meeting and other parties should be allowed to be a part of the meetings. If there are alternates, those alternates cannot attend if the Chief Whip and the main member are present so that one party does not have too many representatives in the Forum.
Mr Dyantyi agreed.
Mr Xaso said he understood the gist of the conversation for the record and had taken note.
Ruling of Mr Dyantyi
Committee Secretary, Mr Perran Hahndiek, referred to the summary in the briefing document. It spoke to an incident in the House on 29 July 2020 when the temporary Chairperson at the time, Mr Dyantyi, was presiding. It was a hybrid sitting dealing with the special adjustments budgets and Members were going through the different votes in the schedule. During the proceedings, there were one or two objections by a few members. Points of order were raised on that basis, asking the temporary Chairperson to please be strict in managing the interjections. At that point, an EFF Member, Ms Mkhaliphi, was heard to speak into the microphone. At this point on the basis of the points of order raised and the nature of the proceedings, Mr Dyantyi asked that she be removed from the virtual platform. Ms Mkhaliphi then wrote to the NA Secretary to address a complaint to the Speaker, where she argued that her remarks were made when the bells were ringing, therefore the House was not formally in session. She added that her remarks were also jovial in nature and not intended as a show of disrespect. On that basis, the Speaker referred the matter to the Subcommittee. Usually, it would go to the Rules Committee and then the Subcommittee, but for practical reasons it came to the Subcommittee.
Mr Hahndiek alerted Members to Rule 92(12), which allows Members, when aggrieved by a particular ruling to request that the Rules Committee to look at the particular principle of the ruling. Rule 92(12) prohibits the Rules Committee from reviewing the ruling itself but to confine itself to the principle upon which the ruling is based. He also referred Members to the Hansard of 29 July 2020 which had been distributed to Members as Annexure B and which he could present if need be. The annexure was distributed on 2 February but on 4 February, a few updates were made by Hansard after which it was distributed. He hoped that all Members had received the updated version yesterday.
Mr Xaso asked to add that in terms of process it would enrich the discussion if Ms Mkhaliphi was allowed to state her point. He was not sure if she had been invited to the meeting or not. Additionally, having Mr Dyantyi, who ruled on the matter, state his side of the story would also be beneficial. After receiving these contributions, the Subcommittee could then consider both versions. This can be done either orally, or on the request for written submissions from both parties, so there is a complete picture of what transpired on the day. The Committee did not have to decide today if it does not have all the information, but it s up to the Committee to decide how it would like to proceed.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Xaso and Mr Hahndiek and asked the Members what they thought.
Ms Mazzone said she likes to stick very strictly to the Rules of Parliament. She has had to withdraw many a time herself and she did so when requested, even when she felt that it was unfair. She also has a general understanding with her caucus that when she informs them to withdraw an item they do so, because whether or not the Subcommittee agrees with the finding of the Chairperson, there is a level of respect and decorum that must always be maintained in the House. When this is lost, the institution comes under attack, rather than a political party or an individual. This can never be allowed in a democratic Parliament.
She urged the Subcommittee members to go back to their caucuses and as leaders of those caucuses to remind them that they have the potential not only to undermine the Chairperson or the person to whom the insult is intended to affect; but the integrity of the entire House is undermined when Members do not adhere to the Rules of Parliament.
The problem with a hybrid system [physical and digital platform] is that many things are lost; including the ability to be sarcastic or to portray humour or nuance. It is for this reason that it cannot be expected that a presiding officer understands the perceived humour. She felt it could be agreed on that Members all had a different sense of humour. The fact of the matter is that when respect is lost for the Chairperson and Parliament becomes compromised, there must be a consequence for that which must be understood and observed by all. What she would like to see is Members being held accountable for their actions. As Chief Whips, one part of the job that is not particularly pleasant is holding the line of discipline within the caucus. This line of discipline is very important. The reason that a Rules Committee and Subcommittee exists is so that when a ruling is made that Members are unhappy with, there is a body to which Members can bring such unhappiness or complaint. Certainly, the floor of Parliament is not the place to do it. She concluded by suggesting, that the ruling be accepted as it was made and that going forward, as Chief Whips, they ensure that their caucus is fully briefed on the fact that the hybrid platform does not allow for nuance, sarcasm or humour. The hybrid platform is a body on which it must be ensured that the Rules are adhered to even more strictly than on the normal parliamentary floor.
Ms Lesoma agreed with Ms Mazzone in saying that they should support Mr Dyantyi’s ruling.
Dr Ndlozi said that the Committee needs to think about what it has been asked to do. A Member has referred a complaint and a factual background. He felt that the Chairperson should have laid the groundwork of procedure before beginning to hear the facts being summarised. The person complained of is also in the meeting. If the Subcommittee gets the basic principles of procedural justice wrong, this will make its job difficult. He felt that a court of law will make a mockery of the Subcommittee. He thought that this item of the agenda should be dealt with as professionally as possible and allow Ms Mkhaliphi to be invited to give explanation or to submit her letter as it was not included in the attachments. The documents only contained a summary of the letter. One of these two options should be requested. The House at the time should be requested to either respond to what Ms Mkhaliphi said in writing or orally as recommended. He was personally not in the House during that sitting so he did not know what occurred. The Subcommittee would be better able to discuss the principle, based on the facts and the oral presentations. He felt that this procedural question was a fair point of departure.
Ms Lesoma suggest that the issues need to be separated. One question is if it is the first time that a presiding officer’s ruling has been complained about. She thought not. As a matter of principle, she did not hear anyone disputing that the business of the House should be conducted professionally and its decorum upheld. What she understood from Mr Xaso’s contribution was the manner through which to proceed. If the Subcommittee starts having hearings, it needs to know what basis it does this on. A Member wrote, following the proper channels, and a presiding officer has a responded. All the Members had received the correspondence and gone through it and have comprehended what transpired. Fortunately, some Members were present on the day. The issues should be separated. What Dr Ndlozi raises should be dealt with as a separate issue and the issues should not be conflated.
The Chairperson said that there is no harm in reflecting on this matter because as Members of Parliament (MPs), they should be held accountable and maintain the decorum of the House. Hence, MPs should appreciate when presiding officers invoke the Rules and stand firm with them. The Rules should be applied without fear or favour and as Chief Whips of parties, they should assist in running the House by making sure that its members behave in a manner that is acceptable and they respect the rulings of presiding officers and the Rules. She asked what the use of Rules are if they are not respected. Members all knew where to take the matter forward when not satisfied with a ruling. Ms Mazzone said earlier that there are times when she would withdraw, even when she did not agree with the ruling for the sake of the smooth running of the House. Although the Subcommittee has reflected on this matter, she thought that a decision should come from the Rules Committee. She urged Members to remember that this Subcommittee is not an inquiry committee; it is a committee that processes matters that come before it
Mr Xaso said that there are procedure and substance issues. He recalled a previous instance Ms Mkhaliphi was invited to the meeting but did not come. However, oral submission is not the only option.
The Chairperson asked if he was saying that both parties needed to be represented in the meeting.
Mr Xaso replied that the Rules Committee will ask if the Subcommittee had listened to both sides and considered them.
Dr Ndlozi said that the dignity of Parliament is not just meant to be kept by Members, but the same expectation applies to presiding officers as well. Ms Lesoma said that the account of Ms Mkhaliphi was included but he did not have the account of either Ms Mkhaliphi or the presiding officer.
Ms Lesoma replied that there was an issue with the email group and she received the account at a later stage but it was not in the documents circulated. She would like to add that there not be oral submissions as it may set a precedent for every complaining Member to come and make oral submission.
The Chairperson thanked everyone for assisting the Subcommittee in clarifying the way forward. As the Subcommittee, she did not think it would struggle to reconvene to discuss this matter as and when the time allows so that it can receive either oral or written submissions. She asked that all present, including Mr Ndlozi, be present should Ms Mkhaliphi avail herself to make oral representations when a date is decided on. The same would be done for Mr Dyantyi, who was the presiding officer on that day.
Time for Declarations of Vote
The Chairperson prefaced the briefing by saying that Members know that the Rules have introduced mini-plenaries that ensure that all parties debate in mini-plenaries so the House is not clouded with many debates and matters only come to the House for vote declarations. There are time allocations for declarations.
Mr Xaso said that at the start of each Parliament, there is usually a review of parliamentary processes, including the sequencing of parties and rotations. The declarations of vote time allocations were not reviewed at the start of the Sixth Parliament. The times in the previous Parliament were seven minutes for the ANC, five minutes for the DA, 4 minutes for the EFF and all other parties had three minutes. Before then, the times where different. Since then, there was a proposal in the Sixth Parliament that the times be reviewed in terms of the new party strengths. The proposal was circulated, but it never got to a point where the Rules Committee finally expressed itself on the matter.
He needed to add that the current declarations of vote were tantamount to a debate in many respects because if all the parties participate, it comes up to 46 minutes. If this time is increased, it will end up being 54 minutes and will really become a mini-debate. The decision that needs to be taken by the Subcommittee as a recommendation to the Rules Committee is whether to retain the current times, which in his opinion were working relatively well, or to recommend that the times change. It is the Subcommittee’s responsibility to raise this so that the House is aware of how it ought to proceed. The times did not need changing, however, and his input was a reflection of the considerations around changing times.
Mr Dyantyi said that as the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The system is currently working well and he proposed that the times remain as they are and no changes be made.
Ms Mazzone agreed. As South Africa is a multi-party democracy, the MPs need to be certain that it remains such in all of its actions. It should remain as 46 minutes and agreed ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
Dr Ndlozi said that declarations should not be treated like another debate – so much so that he proposed 40 minutes instead of 46 minutes. As the Members think about Parliament and a multi-party democracy, he thought that it was painful for a party to get 15 seats and then speak for the same time as a person with one seat. The rest of the people who speak most of the time generally have a lot of seats. He asked that the Subcommittee imagine that a party with 14 seats speaks for the same amount of time as a person with one seat. He thought that 10 seats and above was a serious and substantial number of seats, even in terms of percentage allocation of votes as it is 2% of the vote and above. The rest of the Members, from ACDP, downwards, all have less than 1% of the vote. FF+ has 2%, the IFP has 3% and yet the suggestion is that they speak for the same length of time as parties with less than 1% of the vote. This should be considered in the global fairness of the allocation of time. He argued that the times remains seven minutes for the ANC, five minutes for the DA, four minutes for the EFF; three minutes for the IFP and the FF+ and two minutes for everyone else. This will bring it down to 40 minutes as it is a declaration and not a debate.
Ms Mazzone said that if it is accepted that strictly speaking time is not allocated fairly, as proposed by Dr Ndlozi, then strictly speaking some parties would enjoy 15 seconds. His party, strictly speaking would enjoy about 37 seconds, the DA would enjoy a minute and the ANC would have the bulk of the time. This would defeat exactly the purpose of a multi-party democracy. Whether we like it not, even one-man parties received enough votes by people to be represented in Parliament. It is a physical impossibility to bring across a point in a short amount of time. It is also known that it is not always possible for smaller parties to invest themselves in each and every debate held in Parliament, simply because they do not have the man or woman-power to do so. She said that the DA could fight for a longer speaking time. She saw the perceived unfairness of smaller parties having a large speaking time, however, if Members are true democrats, they should see the value of the voice of all Members of its multi-party democracy.
The Chairperson thanked Members for their contributions. It is a multi-party democracy and overall, they were in agreement that nothing will be changed. Although it had not been reviewed in the Sixth Parliament, the system was working.
Dr Ndlozi asked for his differing view to be captured.
The Chairperson noted it would be captured.
Oral Questions to Deputy President
Mr Michael Plaatjies, Head of the NA Questions Office, said Rule 139 provides for questions to the Deputy President to be scheduled by the Programme Committee once per month. There was a letter from the EFF that suggested that the Deputy President’s questions should take place once per quarter and not once per month. Rule 139(1)(b) provides that the Programme Committee must further determine which months qualify as months during session time within the annual programme for the scheduling of questions to the Deputy President. In his opinion, rule 139(1)(b) gives the Programme Committee far greater flexibility on question time to the Deputy President than rule 140 gives for the questioning of the President.
In terms of rule 140, questions to the President must be scheduled once per quarter, but in terms of rule 139, questions should be scheduled once per month, but the Programme Committee must determine which months qualify as months for that purpose. It was therefore his view that perhaps the Subcommittee should acknowledge the flexibility given by rule 139(1)(b) and all decisions of the Programme Committee are made by consensus. This consensus is usually canvassed within the Forum where parties discuss scheduling considerations such as the State of the Nation Address, the Budget or the fact that the Deputy President will be leading the vaccination roll-out. The Programme Committee may also consider that the second term is usually impacted by religious holidays. It is advisable, therefore, that the Programme Committee considers which months the parties consider to be qualifying months.
Mr Hahndiek showed the ATC of 15 July 2019 which listed the functions of the Deputy President.
Mr H Papo (ANC) said that since the letter was submitted on this matter in 2019, the issue had been discussed several times, including with the Deputy President and the Chief Whip. There are also the Deputy President's additional tasks of the District Development Model and the vaccine roll-out. The latter will be ongoing until at least 67% of the population is vaccinated. He did not think flexibility was needed and said that the proposal of once a quarter is very reasonable. Which month is scheduled by Parliament when in session can depend on the Programme Committee. The amendment has to be clear and not flexible. It was suggested by the EFF but the ANC agreed with the proposal because the responsibilities are likely to increase. The responsibilities of the Deputy President require a lot of engagement with people outside Parliament and government. Initially, there was some engagement with Sudan, which is no longer a responsibility as it was not listed. The Subcommittee should work on the basis of once every quarter as determined by Parliament. If Parliament feels that questions should take place once every two months, that proposal can be made, but for now he thought the proposal is correct and should be reflected in the Rules.
Ms Mazzone said that one takeaway from participating in and closely watching the Zondo Commission was the danger of not having enough oversight. Although she appreciated the Deputy President as Leader of Government Business has a heavy load, from time to time, things change. Parliament is now informed as to how those particular changes affect the questions that may be answered. In the execution of the Deputy President’s duties, it must never be forgotten that first and foremost is the duty he has to MPs as the leader of government business. Therefore, his accountability and the oversight exercised by MPs is of paramount importance. This is so not only because of our Constitution and democracy, but it is also a safeguard to the Deputy President as there then can never be a case of the Deputy President being accused of not wanting to account, failing to account or attempting to withhold information from Parliament. She agreed that a standard time must be given so that the Deputy President can make that time available in his diary. She knew that conferences are planed far in advance, which is why it is important that Mr Papo and Mr Koornhof were present in the Forum, so that the Members have access to the President and Deputy President’s schedules. However, she felt that Parliament should err on the side of over accountability and over reporting to Parliament than under accountability and under-reporting.
House Chairperson for Committees, Mr M Nxumalo (IFP) said he was not sure if the discussion was as to how often the Deputy President should account. In any democracy there must be accountability and it is merely a matter of when this should take place.
Dr Ndlozi said that the Members are coming from different philosophical perspectives but they are in agreement that accountability is essential. However, the discussion is on only one type of oversight which Parliament exercises over the Executive. He did not think that once per quarter should be enough for the President and the Deputy President. However, he felt that the President and Deputy President need time to work so that when Parliament calls them in for a conversation, it is not redundant or superficial. Answers should not be from a common sense perspective, they should be substantial, deep and coming from people who are really in charge of 50-60 million lives. For that to be the case, the session has to be properly ordered and the proposal gave Parliament an opportunity for substantial conversations with them. Otherwise, the rest of the mechanisms remain through which they report to Parliament or are held accountable by it.
Mr Dyantyi felt that a lot of time need not be spent on this item. He supported the proposal.
Mr Papo said that once per quarter seemed to suffice.
The Chairperson summarised that the Subcommittee was in agreement that the Deputy President would appear once per quarter or four times per year.
Opportunities for Debates for Smaller Parties
Mr Xaso took the Committee through the issue. Since there is a rotational system for debates, the complaint is that the concerns of smaller parties do not end up being debated. His recommendation was that more opportunity for mini-plenaries be allowed. For example, there could be two or three mini-plenaries in a day, if for example, the rule allowed for three mini plenaries, meaning that six items would be debated. This was the only proposal which could be offered at present.
Ms Mazzone supported this proposal as mini-plenaries are working well.
Mr Dyantyi and Ms Lesoma supported the proposal.
Dr Ndlozi asked to understand the rule better. He asked if the larger house is sitting, whether the smaller parties will have their items debated on that platform or will the items remain in mini-plenaries.
Mr Xaso clarified that there was an approach in the Sixth Parliament that subjects for discussion should generally happen in mini-plenaries. These are the forums which it uses for debating budget votes. This applies to all parties and not only small parties. It has made a list of the parties who have raised concerns about their perceived marginalization, when it comes to debating their subjects for this kind of discussion. How these debates come about is that notices of motion become the subject of the debates or alternatively parties can submit their motions in writing. This applies to all parties. Debates that do not go to mini-plenaries are snap debates such as debates of public importance. Those are dealt with in a main plenary and this has been the approach thus far, which seems to have been understood by parties. No party so far has insisted that their subject for discussion must be debated in the main plenary. The idea was to create an efficient system of dealing with these debates as there was a long list of Member motions which never ended up being debated. Mini-plenaries were a mechanism designed to ensure that that the motions raised by Members are dealt with. The answer then is that this system is applicable to all parties, and not just to smaller parties.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Xaso for providing clarity.
Written Questions to the Executive not responded to
The Chairperson said that this item was not referred to the Subcommittee by the Speaker, but it came through Mr Hill-Lewis. She asked that he take the Subcommittee through it.
Mr G Hill-Lewis (DA) noted that Mr Singh had raised this issue very strongly in the Rules Committee and it had been consistently raised in Rules Committee meetings since 2017. He had spoken in support of Mr Singh very strongly in that meeting and asked that the matter be referred to the Rules Subcommittee. When he saw the agenda, he was surprised that it had not been referred and he asked that it be added. At the end of last year there were several hundred Written Questions that went unanswered. Many of the questions that were answered took many months to be answered—far in excess of the ten business days allowed in the Rules.
The concern around this has been growing as well as the quality of the responses received, which frankly make a mockery out of parliamentary oversight and accountability. He thought that this was a subject matter that the Rules Subcommittee needed to start seriously applying its mind to for amendments to the Rules. It need to beef up Parliament’s ability to hold the executive to account with Written Questions. He wrote to the Speaker at length last year, providing a number of examples. He was happy to table that correspondence if the Speaker is happy for him to do so. The Speaker correctly replied and said that Parliament and the Speaker’s Office is doing everything it can in terms of the current Rules. He then wrote to the President and he received a response from Mr Koornhof, which he was also happy to table with his permission. The President basically said that it needed to be taken up with Parliament because Ministers account to Parliament. He thought that both the President and the Speaker had placed the ball in the Subcommittee’s court as the Rules Committee and said that it needs to run with the ball now and come up with proper proposals for Rules amendments to address unanswered and badly answered Written Questions. He did not come to the Committee with any firm proposals, although he had lots of proposals. He wanted to put this on the agenda as something which needs to be dealt with.
The Chairperson asked Mr Hill-Lewis to stop before he continued into a discussion on his proposals. She simply asked that the context be given to the Committee. She recommended that this matter be referred to the Speaker to place this matter for discussion before the Subcommittee so that when it is discussed, all members will be prepared to discuss it and have applied its mind to solutions.
Mr Dyantyi said when this matter is referred to the Rules Committee, the Members need to be clear on who the Ministers are who have not answered questions and what reasons were given for not answering within the 10-day period. The Committee should perhaps even receive a presentation from the Deputy President as Leader of Government Business on the actions its Office took once it identified the defect in the answering of Written Questions. Once the Subcommittee understands this problem after receiving that response, the Rules Committee will be able to make a decision.
The Subcommittee deals with technical issues about the change of Rules. If there is something to be changed, which he did not think there was, that will happen. He did not want Mr Hill-Lewis to be a "spokesperson" for the Speaker. The Speaker wrote a letter to the Subcommittee and this was not one of the issues referred to it. The Subcommittee must attend to matters which bear the signature of the Speaker. Still, nothing is lost as the matter can go to the Rules Committee. All he asked was that when the Committee reaches that point, it should have the details of the questions that have not been answered. It is not even a matter about naming and shaming, it is about accountability. Parliament must know who is not doing their work in responding to Written Questions raised by MPs, regardless of from which party they come.
Mr Koornhof supported what Mr Dyantyi had just said as what he was referring to was Rule 146(3).
Mr Xaso said that the Secretariat would do its best to assist the Rules Committee so it does not have to re-hash the matter as the issue was dealt with by this Subcommittee in the Fifth Parliament. The Subcommittee made recommendations to the Rules Committee about giving effect to Rule 136(1) which speaks to a mechanism to deal with unanswered questions. The Rules Committee discussed the matter, took a decision to establish the mechanism—which was even published in the ATC, but the matter lapsed because it was not concluded by the Fifth Parliament. The Secretariat would assist the Committee with this. It may not need to re-invent the wheel if the Sixth Parliament still agrees with the approach that was taken so that the mechanism is put into place and the matter of unanswered Written Questions is dealt with once and for all.
The Chairperson thanked the Committee and said that the Subcommittee does indeed desire all questions to be answered. She thanked the Secretariat and support staff for their assistance and adjourned the meeting.
- Annexure C - ATC - Deputy President Responsibilities
- Annexure B - Unrevised Hansard NA 29 July 2020 - Portion where Ms Mkhaliphi was removed from the platform - Amended
- Annexure A - Letter to Chairperson of Subcommittee on Assembly Rules on referral of matters for consideration and report
- Document on Matters referred to the Subcommittee on Rules
- Revised Notice and Agenda of Subcommittee on Review of Assembly Rules
- Minutes of Subcommittee on Review of Na Rules (Draft I)
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