Rules Subcommittee: Chief Whips Forum Composition, Questions to Deputy President & Presiding Officer Ruling

Rules of the National Assembly

19 February 2021
Chairperson: Ms D Dlakude (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Subcommittee on the Review of Assembly Rules
05 Feb 2021: Rules Subcommittee: Chief Whips Forum; House Ruling; Declarations of Vote; Questions to Deputy President; Unanswered Questions by Executive

In this virtual meeting, the Subcommittee considered three matters referred from the Rules Committee relating to amendments to the Rules of the National Assembly and a ruling by a presiding officer.

The amendments were presented to part 16 rule 257 of the Rules of the National Assembly, that related to the composition of the Chief Whips Forum. The proposed amendments specifically related to attendance and the representation of parties on the Forum. The proposed amendments were adopted

The draft rule amendments to chapter 10 rule 139 of the Rules of the National Assembly were presented. It was proposed that the rule be amended to facilitate the Deputy President answering questions every quarter as opposed to once a month. The Subcommittee adopted the amendments.

The Subcommittee considered the principle relating to the ruling made by an Acting Chairperson on 29 July 2020 in a virtual sitting. The two members concerned presented written representation to the Subcommittee concerning the events that took place. The African National Congress and Democratic Alliance supported the ruling in principle, specifically in terms of the enforcement of procedures during virtual meetings. This was not supported by the Economic Freedom Fighters and Inkatha Freedom Party who expressed that the measures taken during the meeting in July were unreasonable for the situation.

The issues that were referred to the Subcommittee would go back to the Rules Committee and processed by them. If the Rules Committee found that the Subcommittee needed to further process the issues, they would be referred back to the Subcommittee.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks & Minutes
The apologies of Dr C Mulder (FF+) and Mr G Hill-Lewis (DA) were communicated.

The minutes of the meeting of 5 February 2021 were adopted.

The Chairperson stated that the matter that arose from the minutes, regarding outstanding responses, was referred to the Speaker to be placed back on the agenda of the Rules Committee. It would then be referred to the Subcommittee to deal with.

Presentation of Draft Rules

Composition of the Chief Whips Forum

Mr Perran Hahndiek, Parliamentary Procedural Advisor, presented the draft rule amendments to part 16 rule 257 of the Rules of the National Assembly that related to the composition of the Chief Whips Forum.

In the previous meeting the Subcommittee discussed the challenges concerning the Chief Whips Forum, specifically composition and attendance. The issue was referred to the Subcommittee by the Speaker. During the meeting, the members expressed a number of principles on the matter, although not all members agreed in each case.

There was a proposal that the relevant rules be amended. It was proposed that rule 257, the composition of the Chief Whips Forum, be amended to provide for consistent attendance. Given the mandate of the Forum, the numbers need to be limited per meeting. The second view was that key office bearers should be on the Forum, including the Councillors to the President and the Deputy President. He referred to the item 1(c) where they had been included. There was a view expressed, that provision be made that all parties be represented. He referred to item 1(e), the ‘most Senior Whip’ was removed, as not all parties have whips. This was replaced with ‘one member from each of the other parties represented in the Assembly.’ Legal Services had made a few technical corrections to the draft before the Subcommittee to conform with legal practice – such as in the way amendments to a bill might be reflected. For example, in reference to the first line ‘the Chief Whips Forum consists of’, Legal Services suggested that ‘the following persons only’ be removed. These suggestions do not change the substance of the proposals in any way.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) moved for the adoption of the amendments.

Ms N Mazzone (DA) seconded the adoption of the amendments.

The draft rules were adopted, with members noting that Mr Perran’s presentation was a fair reflection of the previous meeting that took place.

Frequency of Questions to the Deputy President
Mr Hahndiek presented the draft rule amendments to Chapter 10 rule 139 of the Rules of the National Assembly.

This issue related to the amendment of the rule to the frequency of questions to the Deputy President. There was a concern raised at the previous meeting, that the provision in the current rules, that the Deputy President answer questions once per month during session, created some confusion and did not facilitate planning. The proposal was that the rule be amended so that the Deputy President could answer questions once every quarter. This was the same arrangement that was made for the President.

The Chairperson confirmed that, the above, was what was discussed at the previous meeting.

Dr Koornhof moved to adopt

Ms Mazzone stated that it was well-known that she appreciated a certain amount of accountability. Although they were agreeing in principle and in concept to that particular time frame, there was nothing that stopped them from requesting an urgent appearance of the Deputy President in the House. They could at anytime ask the Speaker to invite any member as they so requested. She did not think that they should be ‘bogged’ down by forgetting that they always had the ability to call someone to Parliament if necessary or if it was of national importance.

She seconded the adoption.

The draft rule was accepted and adopted.

Consideration of principle: ruling of Mr Dyantyi
The Chairperson referred to the previous meeting where the Subcommittee had requested that two members, Ms Mkhaliphi, and the Acting Chairperson, Mr Dyantyi be given the opportunity to make representation. They have submitted written representation to the Subcommittee, which was appreciated. The Subcommittee had not wanted them to appear before them, as an enquiry was not being conducted. It was procedurally correct that they be given an opportunity to make submissions for the Subcommittee’s consideration.

The mandate of the Subcommittee was to consider the principle on which the ruling was based on 29 July 2020. In terms of the principle, the rules prescribed that presiding officers must manage proceedings and maintain order in the House. The rules give the presiding officers a measure of discretion due to the varying circumstances in the House. Presiding officers must apply the rules fairly but must be allowed to guide the House, this was one reason the specific rulings could not be reviewed. It was established that presiding officers allow some interjection in the Chamber, as the House was a political arena. In the House members were able to interject without having to switch on their mikes at their desks. However, on the virtual platform, a member would need to unmute his/her mike in order to speak or interject. In so doing, it drowned out the member who was speaking on the floor. Presiding officers have necessarily had to be stricter with members on virtual platforms because of this and often caution members not to interject because it drowned out the member speaking. It did limit the ability of members to interject on the virtual platforms during a debate but it was necessary given the current situation/technology. Members must be cautious during intervals when the bells were ringing to signal either the start or the end of the House sitting as well as during voting. The platform was still live and being strained. Members who spoke together would make it difficult for the presiding officer to proceed. She reminded members that they were not dealing with the specific individuals involved but with the principle.

Ms Mazzone stated that both documents were informative. Upon reading both sides of the situation, she was of the opinion that the correct decision was taken in the House. It was a lesson they needed to learn both as members of the House and as presiding officers. It set a good precedent. With reference to the SONA debate, she highlighted the importance of the mute function and availability of technical staff for the presiding officers. It was an important lesson for the whips of Parliament. They should receive a letter following this particular meeting about keeping members in order and actions against repeat ‘offenders.’ “We all know who the repeat offenders are on the virtual platforms, who continuously unmute themselves and shout out on the platform.” She moved to adopt both reports and accepted that the actions taken by the Acting Chairperson on the 29 July 2020 were correct.

Dr M Ndlozi (EFF) felt there was an ‘over-stretch’ on the part of the Acting Chairperson on 29 July 2020. He did not think that the situation had warranted the removal of a member from the platform. Members of Parliament were not like ‘cows’. When one removed a person from a platform, they should be specifically warned. If one applied that rule the way Mr Dyantyi applied it, one would enter into a lot of problems. It was not even an issue about the muting of the mike. The member was just removed from the platform, not simply muted. There was no principle like that. If they thought that Ms Mkhaliphi‘s interruption at that stage was not agreeable, she should have been specifically warned to stop, failure of which she should have been muted, not removed. He therefore felt it was an over-stretch. The Rules Committee cannot allow such a thing. It could not allow an overpowering of an abuse of rules by presiding officers. The punishment needed to fit the crime.

He wanted to discuss another issue. There were people who kept insinuating that there was a group of people, ‘we know who they are,’ and that were always disruptive on the platform. That insinuation was not consistent with the discussion of a principle. For instance, the other day, a chief whip of the majority had to intervene on the part of the members of the EFF. Purely because they were on a virtual platform, the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) could not listen to them. It took a person from the House, there was a discrimination in the way that presiding officers handle matters that ‘If you were on the virtual platform you were just disruptive.’ That attitude was wrong. Even if it was whips that were raising issues they do not listen to them.

The Chairperson apologised for interrupting Mr Ndlozi. She corrected him regarding the issue he had brought up. She had also been in the House during that meeting. The Chief Whip should have elected the chief whips beforehand. That was how they usually dealt with matters at the Chief Whips Forum. If there were changes in the party, one elected the chief whip of the majority party, not when the House was in session. They had to interject, if the EFF’s Chief Whip followed the necessary procedures of bringing the matter to the attention of the other Chief Whip, they would have consulted the other chief whips, they would not have interjected. That one was neither here nor there. On a virtual platform proper procedures must be followed so that things could run smoothly. She requested that they deal with the matter at-hand.

Dr Ndlozi stated that they had missed the principle again, the point he was making was that …


Dr Ndlozi stated that he was not referring to virtual procedures, he was talking about the right to speak on a virtual platform. People had the right to speak on a virtual platform. A Chief Whip of the EFF raised a point of order, and was told he could not speak. They did not know what he was going to say. They did not know what he was going to raise a point of order on. Merely because he was speaking from a virtual platform and raising a point of order, he was not listened to. That was the principle, the principle of speaking. There was this ‘treatment’ that presiding officers had on virtual platforms which created a discrimination against those not represented on the floor. The rules of virtual platforms could not apply differently to when they were in the House. When a person raised a point of order, they had the right to be listened to. It was simple, one had to listen to members of Parliament. “Do not be a presiding officer if you do not want to listen to people.” One could not just ‘cut-them’ before having listened to what their grievance was. That was what happened in the context of Mr Dyantyi. He agreed there must be order. The EFF rains on its members all the time – one does not always see this as they were on a virtual platform. Behind the scenes they call them, they communicate on a group etc. They were all trying to have order.

Dr Koornhof reminded them that they needed to be addressing a specific issue, as outlined in the agenda. They needed to address the principle of the case before them. The case before them was a specific case, they could not be sweeping into a general discussion. He was present at that plenary. He had studied the written representations from both sides. He fully agreed with the decision that Mr Dyantyi took as a principle solution of the case before them. He moved to adopt.

Mr M Nxumalo (IFP) stated that he took order in the House very seriously, and Members would be aware of this from his own background. When one considered the decision that was taken by the presiding officer on July 2020, he was not sure that the proper procedure/application of removing a member was applied. If they were to discuss the merits of that particular action from the Acting Chairperson, he did not think that at that particular time it was the correct decision to have been taken. He agreed that there should be order, and the decorum in the House must be respected, but that particular action taken by the Presiding Chair was incorrect.

The Chairperson stated that they would agree and disagree on some of the issues. The fact remained that it was an established fact that presiding officers in the chamber allowed interjection as the House was a political arena. In the House it was allowed. In the House members were able to interject without having to switch on their mikes at their desks. However, on the virtual platform a member would need to unmute his/her mike in order to speak or interject on that matter. In so doing, it drowned out the member speaking on the floor. As a result, presiding officers have had to be stricter with members on virtual platforms because of the sensitivity of the microphones. The day before, when the President was speaking, someone’s mike was on and it disturbed the House. One could not even hear what the President said at that time. She noted they were from different political parties. She encouraged the Subcommittee to stick with the principle and the case before them. When people on the virtual platforms started to talk from all sides, it was difficult to hear who was saying what. She stated that those who were in or not in support of the principle would be captured as such. It would be taken to the Rules Committee for a decision.

Closing Remarks
The issues that were referred to the Subcommittee would go back to the Rules Committee and processed by them. If the Rules Committee found that the Subcommittee needed to further process the issues, they would be referred back to the Subcommittee.

The meeting was adjourned.



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