In this virtual meeting, the subcommittee on the National Assembly Rules was briefed by the National Assembly Table on matters that were referred by the Speaker. These matters related to the consideration of rules and guidelines for virtual and hybrid sittings, consideration of rules and guidelines for bringing articles into the House, and the use of background on virtual platforms. The NA Table also briefed the subcommittee on rules and guidelines for smaller parties to raise matters and questions to the House and was asked to consider the principle of ruling.
The subcommittee was presented with a technical amendment of the rules for virtual and hybrid sittings. The National Assembly had adopted a mostly ‘hybrid’ system, where some members were present in the Chamber and others online. While these rules apply to all virtual sittings, the technical amendment of the word ‘hybrid’ would ensure no ambiguity when reference was made to these types of proceedings. The purpose of this rule was to enable the National Assembly and its Committees to hold compliant virtual and hybrid meetings using technological platforms. On the topic of bringing articles into the House, it was noted that there were currently no guidelines on the use of placards and protests in the House. An important function of members in the House was to engage each other in debate and to do so in accordance with the Rules of the Assembly. However, if members, including members of the public, were allowed to embark on protests using placards or bringing other objects or articles into the House it could disrupt proceedings. The consideration of the ruling related to an incident in a Portfolio Committee meeting where one Member alleged that another Member was racist. When referring the matter to the subcommittee for consideration, the Speaker identified the principle involved as the application of a limitation on freedom of speech and the permissibility of Members making racial inferences and remarks in relation to other Members. The question before the Committee was how it wished to proceed with the matter. Was the principle of freedom of speech involved? Was it permissible for one Member to allege or infer that another Member was racist?
Members of the subcommittee agreed with the proposals made on members’ backgrounds. The subcommittee should be quite emphatic that the background should either be a plain white background, blurred out or the parliamentary virtual background.
On the issue of placards and protests, the IFP commented that if a member raised a newspaper or letter to emphasise a point that was being made in a speech then there should be nothing wrong with that. It was only overtly political and offensive statements that were on placards that were desirable for the decorum of the House. A Member of the DA noted that when the subcommittee formulated rules it needed to be looked at broadly and the ease of implementing them fairly and equitably across people. It would be very difficult to rule out the use of any form of symbolism in the House. It would be clamping down on the individual’s ability to express themselves or to lend solidarity with a specific cause. It was agreed that the use of such things should not contribute to the deterioration of the decorum in the House. A Member of the subcommittee noted with concern that the decorum of the House had been deteriorating over a period of time. It was asked why would Parliament agree to an environment that was similar to being in a stadium or at a rally? He did not think that Parliament should do that. It was going to open a window to all sorts of things that could be written. When it was said that Parliament needed to be flexible it would result in Parliament allowing all sorts of things, unconstitutional things, to be written. The whole Chamber would become a mockery. The subcommittee needed to insist on people just debating. It was noted that an option would be to allow political parties to discuss these guidelines and take a position. The Members of the ANC noted that Members of Parliament were used to discussions and the verbal exchange of views. Parliament should do away with the displaying of placards. In relation to the consideration of the ruling, Members were in agreement that the Subcommittee should affirm the principle of the ruling, the principle of freedom of speech and the need for members to refrain from making allegations of racism against other Members.
The Chairperson welcomed Members to the meeting. She noted that they should have received all of the documents that had been circulated.
The Chairperson asked that the agenda be presented and considered for adoption.
Adoption of agenda
Mr N Singh (IFP) moved for the adoption of the agenda.
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) seconded the adoption of the agenda.
The agenda was adopted.
The subcommittee adopted its minutes of 19 February and 6 August 2021.
Mr Dyantyi raised a point for consideration. He asked if the subcommittee could reflect on a matter that arose from the minutes. The subcommittee had adopted a new model and approach to follow-up on written questions. He noticed that the National Assembly Table had sent the latest report on that matter. Members needed to reflect on it and where things were in relation to that report. It was a critical matter. He wanted the matter to be flagged before the close of the meeting.
The Chairperson said that the subcommittee would deal with that matter before the close of the meeting.
Consideration of rules and guidelines for virtual and hybrid sittings
Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, presented to the subcommittee a technical amendment of the rules for virtual and hybrid Sittings. On 9 June 2020, the National Assembly adopted rules for ‘virtual meetings’. These rules allowed the House and its committees to meet using online platforms. The National Assembly has adopted a mostly ‘hybrid’ system, where some Members are present in the Chamber and others online. While these rules apply to all virtual sittings, the technical amendment of the word ‘hybrid’ will ensure no ambiguity when reference is made to these types of proceedings. The purpose of this rule is to enable the National Assembly and its committees to hold compliant virtual and hybrid meetings using technological platforms.
Ms Lesoma suggested that the subcommittee accept the technical amendment of the rules for virtual and hybrid sittings and recommend it to the National Assembly Rules Committee.
Mr Dyantyi supported the recommendation.
The Chairperson said that the technical amendment was accepted by the subcommittee.
Consideration of rules and guidelines for bringing articles into the House and the use of backgrounds
Mr Xaso presented a discussion document on the displaying of placards and bringing objects into the House, and virtual backgrounds. Mr Xaso noted that there were currently no guidelines on the use of placards and protests in the House. An important function of Members in the House was to engage each other in debate and to do so in accordance with the Rules of the Assembly. However, if Members, including members of the public, were allowed to embark on protests using placards or bringing other objects or articles into the House it could disrupt proceedings. It could also impede Members from exercising their rights and privilege to be heard and to be listened to. In the absence of clear guidelines on the matter, two options were proposed for consideration by the Subcommittee. The first option was a rule that a Member may not display placards, objects, or articles in the Chamber regardless of whether it is related to the Member’s speech or the business of the House, as a debate is about a verbal exchange of views. The second option was guidelines for displaying placards and bringing objects into the Chamber. These guidelines included non-threatening objects that can be used as a weapon being prohibited from the Chamber. A Member should refrain from bringing objects into the Chamber that were not related to the business of the House or the Member’s speech. Members were discouraged from bringing items or objects into the Chamber that may cause offense or that were not befitting the dignity and decorum of the House. The guidelines on displaying placards and other objects shall also apply to Members on the virtual platform.
Mr Xaso also briefed the subcommittee on guidelines for Members’ backgrounds on the virtual platform. It was noted that Members on the virtual platform were required to conduct themselves as if they were physically present in the House. Members’ backgrounds on the virtual platform either should be blurred out or should display the parliamentary buildings. Party symbols or insignia of whatever kind may not be used as virtual backgrounds or displayed in any way. It was also proposed that Members of the Executive should refrain from displaying departmental emblems or banners as their backgrounds when they accounted to the Assembly. Their backgrounds on the virtual platform should either be blurred out or should display the parliamentary buildings.
Mr Singh discussed the issue of Members’ virtual backgrounds. He agreed with the guidelines on this. However, sometimes when Members used the Parliament background, either their head was cut off or their head was hanging in the air. He noted that the background depended on how good the bandwidth was. He did not have any problem with the guidelines on virtual backgrounds. A point had been made in the House that sometimes flags were placed all over the show and perhaps then this rule would be applicable.
He discussed placards and protests. His view was that if he was speaking in a debate and displayed an article he saw in a newspaper, to emphasise the point he was making, then there should not be anything wrong with that. Or if he lifted up a letter that he received from a Minister as a way of emphasising his point then he did not think there was anything wrong with that either. He agreed that overtly political statements that were on placards may not be desirable for the decorum of the House.
Ms S Gwarube (DA) discussed the options that the Members were shown, option one and option two, in reference to the placards and protests issue. When the Committee formulated rules it needed to be looked at broadly and the ease of implementing them fairly and equitably across people. It would be very difficult to rule out the use of any form of symbolism, and the like, in the House. It would be clamping down on the individual’s ability to express themselves or to lend solidarity with a specific cause. She agreed with the rules where it stated that the use of such things should not contribute to the deterioration of the decorum in the House. Those were important guidelines for the presiding officer to make that ruling on the day. It would be extremely difficult to opt for option one in this instance. It would be quite stringent to opt for option one. Option two was quite clear and would provide clear guidance to the presiding officer in making that ruling about what people could and could not use.
She discussed the virtual backgrounds. She thought that blurred out backgrounds, the parliamentary buildings and/or a plain white background, in instances where people were unable to use a virtual background, was fine. She agreed with the provisions in the rules about the use of government flags because there was no uniformity. After two and a half years of using this platform, it should be a well-oiled machine. Some people use part logos as backgrounds, across the board. The subcommittee should be quite emphatic that the background should either be a plain white background, blurred out or the parliamentary virtual background.
Mr H Papo (ANC) said that the decorum of the House had been deteriorating over a period of time. The fact that insignia and written words about parties were not allowed in the House was specifically to deal with this particular problem. He did not understand why slogans would be accepted. If Parliament had an agreement on specific days, for example, a gender-based violence debate, that there should be a debate then he did not understand why placards should be allowed. It could also be on clothing if it was allowed in the House. It could create a very difficult situation. Why would Parliament agree to an environment that was similar to being in a stadium or at a rally? He did not think that Parliament should do that. It was going to open a window to all sorts of things that could be written. It was like when a political party had a march and allowed people to make handwritten posters. People were going to write things that were not in the party’s policy. That was where the danger came in. When it was said that Parliament needed to be flexible it would result in Parliament allowing all sorts of things, unconstitutional things, to be written. The whole Chamber would become a mockery. He thought that the subcommittee needed to insist on people just debating. Insignia, written statements on clothing and logos should not be allowed. He did not understand what was meant by Parliament needing to be flexible? When a letter was raised it had no insignia. When a logo of a party was not allowed then written words of a party were not allowed. He said one could imagine a situation where all political parties hoisted their logos or posters when Parliament was having a debate on a matter. It created a problem in terms of the atmosphere of the House. Generally, as political parties, it should not be done. Members should be allowed to express their opinions during the debate. Sometimes wrong things were allowed to happen in the House. There were Whips who were very fence-sitting on some of the issues because the debates were hot and members of their party did wrong things. He was not saying option one but if the Subcommittee did not take option one then it would be left with a very flexible option two. Political parties had differing opinions about a whole range of things.
He discussed virtual backgrounds. He said Mr Singh’s background was allowed or the parliamentary buildings. Backgrounds of people’s books should not be allowed. People put books with slogans as their background. He had seen that when people appeared with books as the background. There were party logos on the books. If there was a problem and someone could not have the background of Parliament, then the person needed to sit in a place where the background was plain. All the funny things that people did on virtual platforms should not be allowed. It seemed as if the Members who had bad backgrounds liked to open their cameras. He did not understand why. He saw members who were sitting in a car. If members did not have a plain or parliamentary building as a background, then they should not open the camera. Parliament needed to be firm on that matter. The Executive Members had two options. All of them had to have a standard background with a flag on one side of where they were speaking. Or they needed to have the background of Parliament. People had objected to what had happened in some of the hearings. A number of them were now using Parliament as a background. The Executive Members should either use a standardised flag of South Africa as their background or the background of Parliament. The problem was when a Member attended a sitting and they were not at home but they wanted to open their camera. That was when one saw all sorts of funny things happening in the background. He thought that they should not open their camera. If someone was not in a good place or did not have a background, then it would not be wrong for that person to not open their camera. That should be the way Parliament did things. Otherwise, the "mixed masala" that Parliament had now just denuded the decorum of the National Assembly and the NCOP. The NCOP should also follow the same approach. He was not clear on the issue of flexibility. Mr Singh was saying that a letter was like a poster. He believed if that window was opened that there would be problems in the House.
Mr Dyantyi agreed with the sentiments expressed by the previous Members. He discussed the two options that were presented. He made the point that the examples Mr Singh made were not objects that were referred to in the presentation. He had no issue with Members showing that they had received a specific letter during a speech. That was not a problem. If that was not allowed, then it would make parliamentary debates poor. He proposed that the subcommittee agrees on option one. Mr Xaso made a point that there might be extremes but he did not elaborate on that. The extreme might be the challenges faced if Parliament chose option two. He suggested the subcommittee agree on option one. Mr Xaso and his team could then come back and table the implications of these extremes on option one. He was calling for Mr Xaso and his team to come back so that the subcommittee could have a further discussion on option one. Option two was very problematic. He provided an example of a day when the Economic Freedom Fighters came to the House wearing a scarf of the old South African flag. He did not want Parliament to even venture into option two. He did not agree with there not being any rules and that discretion needed to be used by the presiding officers. That could derail Parliament.
He discussed the issue of the background. Members could use the parliamentary background. There were issues with it as it was not a perfect background. Sometimes he would get so distracted from what the Speaker was saying by what the background was doing. It was like the Speaker was flying somewhere. That was one of the downsides of the parliamentary background. Or the Speaker was blurred out.
Dr Koornhof said that this was a discussion document in front of the subcommittee, with two guidelines. One was on the displaying of placards and the bringing of objects into the Chamber. The second one was guidelines on the backgrounds of the virtual platform. These were two very important proposals. He said that the subcommittee needed to be realistic. For every rule that was made, a number of opportunities were created to break that rule. This was a reality of the Sixth Parliament. He discussed the guidelines on virtual backgrounds. He saw two issues that he wanted to raise. One was the background of the President of the country, who was not a member of Parliament, was not mentioned. Currently, the President used a background that all political parties could agree to. The background that was used by the Deputy President was acceptable. Nobody in the NCOP yesterday objected to the Deputy President’s background. The issue of the President’s and Deputy President’s backgrounds was not addressed in the discussion document. He discussed the Members of the Executive. In the mini-plenaries, he did not see anything that he thought was unacceptable. If a rule was made in the legislature about the background of the Executive, then it would be courteous and should be acceptable to discuss it with the Leader of Government Business (LOGB). The LOGB was the link between the Executive and the legislature. He was not sure where the subcommittee was going. An option would be, regarding the two sets of guidelines before the subcommittee, to allow political parties to discuss these guidelines and to take a position.
Ms M Dikgale (ANC) discussed the option of bringing objects into the Chamber. When listening to the presentation she thought of a classroom situation where an educator wanted to draw the total attention of the learner. Members were used to discussions and the verbal exchange of views. There was no problem with that because the members were not in a classroom environment, where the teacher did not want the students to forget what they were saying. Therefore, Parliament should do away with the displaying of placards. Mr Dyantyi put it so well when he discussed the example that was raised by Mr Singh. She seconded the proposal that Mr Dyantyi had put on the table.
She discussed the virtual background. She supported the proposal that members either did not put on their video camera or use a parliamentary background or a plain background.
Ms Lesoma said that the subcommittee should welcome the options. She discussed the virtual background. When the plenary sat it was deemed to be Parliament because the presiding officer reminded members of that. She agreed that Parliament needed to engage with everybody who was affected. She did not want to exclude members of the Executive who were Members of Parliament. The most appropriate would be to use the parliamentary background, notwithstanding the fact that sometimes the members’ faces did not show. That was because of the light at that time. The sitting of the House needed to have dignity. When Members were in Parliament, it was a verbal exchange of words, engagement and debate. It was not a demonstration of some sort or picketing of a special issue. Parliament could not create an unintended grey area for the presiding officer to rule on. The rules were there to assist every Member. The rules were there for the presiding officers to apply consistently to all Members and not to be selective. The subcommittee needed to be careful saying that the discretion of the presiding officer needed to be followed because certain precedence would be made and then it became an unwritten rule. She agreed with what had been said. There should be no placards because Parliament was not a demonstration and members were not picketing.
Ms Dikgale said that sometimes when the camera was turned off then the speaker’s picture would be displayed on the screen. Would that be welcomed? If it was welcomed she would support that. She also supported the proposal of using the South African flag because sometimes the President used it.
Mr Papo discussed the picture that was displayed if the video was turned off. Some Members appeared in those photos wearing logos and the written words of their parties. Parliament needed to be very careful because some Members just did not want to follow rules. The photo displayed should not have a logo or insignia or the written words of the party. The subcommittee should not allow picketing or placards in the Chamber. Parliament was not a rally or a picket line. That could be done outside of Parliament.
The Chairperson said that when Mr Xaso was presenting option one he noted that there were some challenges. She wanted him to expand on those challenges. The subcommittee needed to further process these rules before it could send them to the National Assembly Rules Committee. The subcommittee needed to further engage all members and members of the Executive as well. She asked Mr Xaso to expand on that matter so that the members knew of the challenges of option one. She discussed the virtual sittings. She noted that when there was a previous vote of no confidence some members were unable to unmute themselves. Would it be allowed for Members, if they were unable to unmute themselves, to raise a paper that said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when it came to voting? She wanted the subcommittee to also have that in mind. She discussed the displaying of pictures if Members were unable to switch on their video cameras. If that picture did not contain anything written about their political parties or anything offensive, would that be allowed or not? The subcommittee needed to keep that in mind. Some Members, because of ill-discipline or trying to disrupt the House, might make the picture something that contains written words from their parties. That would not be acceptable.
Mr Singh said that the Parliament background took up a lot of bandwidth and it often blocked the speaker’s face. He asked if Parliament could start working on a simpler background? He asked if there could be some other design? The background could be a parliamentary logo. He discussed the options. He would not wholeheartedly agree with option one. He would agree if it was said that a member may not display placards and objects in the Chamber. He asked for Mr Xaso’s advice to the subcommittee on those matters.
The Chairperson said that in the introduction of the document presented it stated that ‘if Members, including members of the public, were allowed to embark on protests using placards or by bringing other objects or articles into the House, it could disrupt the proceedings and impede Members from exercising their right and privilege to be heard and to be listened to, by not only Members but also their constituents’. She asked Mr Xaso to respond to the comments made.
Mr Xaso discussed the backgrounds. He mentioned a few points that he noticed from the discussions. A plain background, Parliament’s background, a static picture if a Member could not open their video or if there was no suitable background should all be allowed. Parliament may also want input from the Executive on what backgrounds the Executive should use. He did not see any difficulty with those points raised.
He discussed the issue of objects. He looked at how option one was formulated. One thing that came to mind was the previous Minister of Finance presenting the budget. It was just one example. The Minister would have sought the permission of the Speaker. Maybe that was a condition that could be added to option one, not without the permission of the Speaker. Banning objects completely without making provision for asking permission from the Speaker could be a challenge. There could be a genuine need for a member to demonstrate something to the House. When he mentioned ‘extreme’ that was what he had in mind. He noted the issue of solidarity. Some of the points made in the second option could be used to enrich the first option.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Xaso for the clarification.
Mr Dyantyi said that he was not convinced. Mr Xaso had just realised that there might be a third option. He asked Mr Xaso to go back and properly work on the third option so that the subcommittee was not pushed to agree on option one or two.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Dyantyi for bringing up the idea of a third option. It meant that the subcommittee was not going to finalise this matter today.
Mr Papo said that there was a proposal made by Dr Koornhof that the Executive should also indicate how they wanted to appear. Having Ministers appearing in ‘the smartest type of appearances’ was not good. There needed to be an agreement with the Executive about how they wanted to appear. There needed to be some standard form of how the Executive appeared and Parliament could not impose it on them. Dr Koornhof said that issue should be raised by the NA with the LOGB to say that there was currently a review of the rules happening in relation to virtual backgrounds. The Executive also needed to give input in terms of how they wanted to appear. There were also some problems with how members of the Executive appeared. While Parliament was refining its rules, the Executive could provide feedback so that Parliament had a sense of what the Executive’s position was. He saw all sorts of things when the members of the Executive appeared which created all sorts of problems. He agreed with the proposal Dr Koornhof made. He also agreed with the idea of creating a third option, which allowed for the approval of objects by the presiding officers.
Dr Koornhof said that there was agreement that consultation on virtual backgrounds should be done with the Executive. That should also include the backgrounds of the Deputy President, as a Member of the Executive, as well as the President.
Ms Lesoma asked if both items would be deferred because the Subcommittee was discussing both items simultaneously? Were both items of discussion work-in-progress thus far? She suggested that there should be a timeframe noting that the rules needed to be implemented and that there should be clarity moving forward.
The Chairperson thanked Members for their inputs. The Subcommittee needed to consult Members of the Executive. Both items needed to be a work-in-progress. The subcommittee needed to consult and then come back. It would process this matter and take it to the National Assembly Rules Committee. She wanted to come back to this matter next week Friday so that the matter could be finalised and taken to the Rules Committee. These matters need to be processed as matters of urgency and then next week the subcommittee would meet and finalise them. The subcommittee was not far from finalising these matters. Some issues just needed to be ironed out. Based on the inputs made by members, the NA Table would refine the options available. There was no problem with colours. The problem was with slogans and the messages that were written. The NA Table needed to craft option three, with the inputs that were made. Nothing should be left to the discretion of the presiding officers. The rules needed to be tightened so that when the Members were in Parliament they were not deliberately disrupted by people who wanted to cause disorder or divert the business of the House. These two matters would be put to further processing. The Subcommittee was in agreement that it would meet next week Friday to finalise these matters.
Consideration of rules and guidelines for smaller parties to raise matters and questions in the House
Mr Xaso discussed the issue of smaller parties asking for more opportunities to raise matters and questions. There was another concern and it related to Ministers’ responses to questions on a question day and the number of questions they were able to take. Currently, Parliament hardly went beyond 12 questions on a question day. That was a concern because then the Executive was required to respond in writing but there was no response to those questions. The presentation discussed the prioritised questions of parties and how these questions were then integrated into a sequence of party rotation. Minority parties were especially impacted when question days to the President and Deputy President were scheduled. Consideration may be to reduce the number of supplementary questions to one for the original questioner only and put more original questions on the question paper. Currently, 12 to 14 original questions were asked on a question day while dealing with about 48 to 56 supplementary questions. It would permit more Members to put their own questions forward instead of hitching on someone else’s original question. The times provided to Ministers to reply to the original and supplementary questions may also be reduced to 120 and 90 seconds respectively.
Mr Singh said that in other forums it was heard how smaller parties complained about not having opportunities. He discussed Ministers and cluster questions. Parliament tried increasing from two hours to three hours but still, only 12 questions were gone through. That meant taking 15 minutes on each question. That became like interpellation. Perhaps it would be a good thing to reduce the time the Minister was given to respond. The first question could be 90 seconds instead of two minutes. Thereafter, there would be two more questions. It would give Members more time and for other parties to ask more questions. The discretion of the presiding officers needed to be measured. They needed to give different parties opportunities to ask more questions. He found with the ruling party, even with the follow-up questions, sometimes the Ministers read answers which meant that those questions had been pre-planned and answers were provided in writing. That did not help Parliament to keep the Executive in check. He agreed with reducing the number of supplementary questions and reducing the time for answering questions. That would help Members to ask between 15 and 18 questions in a three-hour session.
He discussed the statements. The regrouping would also help. It would also help when it came to mini-plenaries. Some of these parties did not have a chance to get motions debated in the House. It had been agreed in principle that there would be more opportunities for mini-plenaries so that the smaller parties could have an opportunity to have their motions debated.
Ms Lesoma welcomed the presentation by Mr Xaso. It needed to be agreed that when the time allocation and sequence were distributed at the beginning of the term there was a reason. It needed to be demonstrated that parties were able to accommodate each other but there was also a point where Parliament could not go any further. When there was Q&A in the House, for oral reply, the Executive was not only responding to the Members. The Executive was responding to the public who were listening and watching the proceedings of the House. How much time was given to an Executive member to respond to a question mattered. Some Members, when they asked questions, put one question into three sections that needed a detailed response. If the Minister tried to cover all three questions in a limited time, then the Executive was accused that the question was not responded to because the member had an expectation of certain responses. If the time was reduced, the Executive Members would be put in the spotlight and would be vulnerable. It needed to be accepted that democratic majoritarianism did sometimes create a problem. That could not be changed without going to the principle of causality thereof. Members needed to be mindful of their intentions so that there were not any unintended consequences. She noted that it would not be correct for Mr Singh indirectly to make an assumption that was ill-informed because he did not have evidence on the matter. If a Member was using their gadget when questions were being asked, was there anything wrong with a member looking at that? Was it wrong for a member of the Executive to look up information on their gadgets in responding to questions? Some of the follow-up questions were very specific. When Members engaged at this level of a meeting she urged that Members should not go to a space where the Subcommittee became a political arena. The Subcommittee’s engagements would not be fruitful or productive. She directed her comment to Mr Singh and said that the Subcommittee would not go into that space.
The Chairperson said that she was going to deal with that issue at the end of the meeting. She thanked Ms Lesoma for attending to that issue. Members could not come to the subcommittee, where they were processing matters that were referred to the subcommittee, and make assumptions that whenever members of the Executive referred to their notes that they were given questions by the ruling party. That was not fair. Mr Singh was challenging the intelligence of those Ministers, that they were unable to think for themselves and that they were given questions by the ANC. That assumption was wrong. Members should not say things that they could not prove.
Mr Dyantyi said it was important that as the subcommittee they were firm on the important principles. The issue was for further opportunities for smaller parties. The issue of mini-plenaries was in existence because there were evolving rules. The rules were an enabler to the Members’ role. The subcommittee might need to go further because it was not like Parliament had not thought of making room for more opportunities for small parties. It needed to be agreed and accepted that any party who was part of the 14 parties, whether it was with one seat or two seats, was in Parliament. They represented whoever they represented. The principle of proportionality needed to be understood. Proportionality meant that political parties did not have the same weight. It was a constitutional matter. It was not just an issue of rules. As the subcommittee developed rules, it needed to be careful that the rules did not erode the important issue of proportionality which was in the Constitution. All of Members needed to accept that principle. There should be no resistance to exploring other ways and means to ensure that smaller parties exercised their rights. He discussed the principle of ‘spreading’. The spread needed to be done in such a way that every Minister who was present should have an opportunity to respond to the questions put forward by members. That was a matter that needed to be worked on and fixed. He made the point that in the Sixth Parliament, in three hours, fewer questions were dealt with than before. That indicated that something was wrong that needed to be fixed. It was defeating the issue. He would have no problem with the Subcommittee probing further on the issue of interpellations. It would be important for Mr Xaso and his team to put everything on the table and paint the different scenarios and what the implications of each would be. Today, he did not have that picture and he wanted to have that picture.
Ms Dikgale said it was not fair to reduce the minutes of Ministers and share it with the smaller parties. This was not going to do any good. The electorate had elected members in large numbers, others in smaller numbers. Parliament followed the principle of proportional representation. The smaller parties needed to agree that they did not work and that they were small. Everything that was on their plate would remain small. She supported Members who spoke before her. She rebuked the comment that the ANC Members were giving the Ministers their follow-up questions. It was not true. That would be belittling the minds of the Ministers. The Ministers knew their work and prepared before they came to the House.
Mr Papo said that he did not like interpellations. In some legislatures they were important. It depended on the situation. He discussed the questions for oral reply. Should 20 questions be allowed? Why should there be 20 questions? The issue was with spreading. If it was a cluster meeting, then the majority of questions could not go to one Minister. The questions needed to be spread during cluster meetings. He discussed the questions which were similar, particularly questions that were posed to the President and Deputy President. Often three out of the six questions raised were the same. That issue needed to be managed by the parties. That needed to be arranged between the parties before the sitting. The idea of reducing the time of the Executive from five to three would not happen. The notion that there was a problem with a majority-elected political party should not be perpetuated. That should not be considered a proposal. The issue was then, should Parliament extend the time from three to four hours? That was the only way Members could have more questions dealt with. He did not think that that would actually work. The issue was with how Parliament managed and scheduled the questions and whether they were similar to previous questions asked by various parties. He did not agree with the proposal of reducing the time from five minutes to three minutes. He discussed the issue of preparing questions. Some questions that were follow-ups may have actually been asked before. Some of the questions were repetitions. It may have been asked in the NCOP and then appeared in the NA. The notion that the Ministers looked at notes and therefore it was a question given to them was a problem. If evidence could be produced, then there could be a discussion. Once there was the politicisation of rules, then there would be problems.
The Chairperson said that she heard the points raised by Members. The reduction of Ministers’ time to respond was not agreed to. As Members of Parliament, they needed to hold the Executive accountable. Questions were used to hold the Executive accountable for the work that they were doing, in the departments that they were deployed. Questions needed to be spread amongst those Ministers within the cluster. It was not acceptable that there were cluster Ministers in the House but only two Ministers were able to respond to questions and the other Ministers were not able to respond to questions. It was agreed in the Rules Committee on the use of mini-plenaries to allow the smaller parties to participate. The mini-plenaries needed to be used before thinking about reducing or increasing time for questions. It needed to be seen where the mini-plenaries took Parliament. The rules could be amended forever but if the members were not using those amendments to the fullest capacity then there was nothing that could be done. Parliament could not keep on increasing or decreasing time to suit smaller parties. South Africa had a multiparty democratic Parliament. Parliament made sure that everyone was accommodated. Reducing time to accommodate everyone was not the only option that could be explored. The option of mini-plenaries needed to be explored. Members needed to spread the questions to all Ministers. The repetition of questions was not acceptable. That was what she heard in this meeting that the members had raised. She asked the Members if the subcommittee needed to further process this item before it took it to the Rules Committee? Or were the Members satisfied with the discussions?
Dr Koornhof supported the Chairperson’s summary. It was a good summary of the discussion. He supported what the subcommittee had discussed earlier about the discussion document on the two sets of guidelines, the one about the objects in the Chamber and the other about the virtual backgrounds. The Chairperson had summarised the arguments and he proposed that the subcommittee accept her summary.
Ms Lesoma said that the subcommittee had closed the discussion on the placards and the virtual background issue. On this matter, the Chairperson’s summary was proper and captured the spirit of the meeting. She proposed that the subcommittee process the matter and take it forward to the Rules Committee. She moved for the acceptance of the Chairperson’s summary.
Ms Xaso said that the NA Table had taken note of the important issues that were raised. The one issue that would continue to be grappled with was how to achieve a fair spread of opportunities. Part of the difficulty was that there was a role that needed to be played by parties in terms of how they prioritised questions. Parliament was not able to tell parties how they were to prioritise their questions. Some parties might prioritise certain questions for a certain Minister in a cluster meeting. The rules made provision for a Minister to reply to four questions on a particular question day. That needed to be dealt with. It needed to be seen how best that could be worked on. He was happy for the current understanding to be taken to the Rules Committee while the NA Table was asked to come back with more options on how it could assist the process. As many Ministers needed to respond to questions as possible. Those matters would be worked on.
Mr Dyantyi said that he heard the Chairperson’s summary on the issue and going to the Rules Committee. He wanted to avoid a piecemeal approach. He did not want to contradict the Chairperson’s summary. It would be good for the Subcommittee to allow the NA Table to do that exercise because part of the reason why there was no spread of questions was because it was up to the parties to prioritise the questions. Those issues need to be problematised. He did not know what the rush was for the subcommittee to just tick the box in this meeting instead of attending the matter in a more sustainable way. He would err on the side of asking the NA Table to come back with a more detailed approach on how these things would be done.
Mr Papo said that the status quo was to remain but parties should be advised to prioritise across the cluster to make questions to the various Ministers, instead of one or two. That issue needed to be dealt with through the Chief Whips. He asked Mr Xaso if this discussion around questions related to the issue of enhancing engagement in the House? The rules were that if a question was asked and a member refused to answer then it ended there. Was it linked to that issue or was it a separate matter? He agreed with Mr Dyantyi that the status quo needed to remain but with parties being advised. More work needed to be done in relation to what Mr Xaso had said.
Ms Lesoma said that before the subcommittee repeated itself the Chairperson had said that the questions should be spread to all departments, come with various scenarios and their implications, and explore mini-plenaries. That was what the Chairperson summarised. She supported the comments made by Mr Dyantyi.
Mr Xaso said that the point raised by Mr Papo related to the quality of replies. He suggested that the subcommittee deals with that issue separately. There were certain obligations. The Minister was required to respond to the points raised in the question. That was the guideline and practice with questions currently. The question was about how far Parliament was to enforce that. That was the matter that needed to be discussed further.
The Chairperson said that the subcommittee was talking about questions for oral reply. The Subcommittee did not include questions for written reply. Or was the subcommittee dealing with questions in general?
Mr Xaso said that the issue of opportunities mainly applied to questions for oral reply.
Mr Singh said that the subcommittee had been talking for some time about questions of a similar nature. When the President last did questions in the House he could recall at least three of the questions that were put by different members, which they were entitled to, were on the same topic. When it came to motions there was a system where the Table would inform the party that a specific motion had already been tabled by a certain party. When it came to questions each party would have their own priorities. Could the Table assist in that regard to inform a member or a party that a similar question had already been placed on the Table by a certain party? Was that not a possibility for oral questions?
The Chairperson thanked Mr Singh for raising that point. It was a very important point. Was there anything preventing the NA Table from doing what it did with motions without notice?
Mr Xaso said that he would have to discuss the matter with his team. There were interactions that happened with the parties on questions. Sometimes parties felt strongly about their particular question and may argue that the angle they were taking was different. It was a matter of concern. He was also concerned about it. The NA Table grappled with this when it had to submit questions to the Speaker because for example three of the six questions would be about Eskom. He needed to engage his team further and see how else this could be managed. The NA Table would need the cooperation of the parties. At the next meeting, it would report on how it was dealing with the matter.
Mr Papo said that he was not referring to a comment after a question. He was referring to the House sittings when there was debate and speeches were made. It was a separate matter. It was not about questions. The notion that a Member disagreed with the answer of a Minister, was a problem. How a Minister responded, in terms of the content, could not be dictated by the person who was asking the question. Some of the questions were political. If the Ministers answered politically then the member might say that the Minister had not answered the question. The Member did not agree with the political content of the answer. It was not that the Minister had not answered. The Minister could say yes or no. It had happened in the past and it was not a good way of answering. There was no rule to prevent the Minister from answering with yes or no. For the ANC it was not a good way of answering. The notion that a Minister had not answered a question because the Member disagreed with the content could be dealt with as a separate matter. He wanted it noted that he was not talking about comments being made during question time. He was commenting about plenary, debates in the House.
The Chairperson said that Mr Xaso had committed to looking into the issues that were raised with regard to the opportunities for smaller parties to raise questions. The Subcommittee would process this matter further next week when it came back to the meeting on Friday. Everything would be finalised. The Subcommittee agreed that that was in order.
Consideration of principle of Ruling (Ms Mazzone)
Adv Victor Ngaleka, National Assembly Table, briefed the subcommittee on the consideration of the principle of Ruling. On 16 March 2022, the Chief Whip of the Opposition, Ms Mazzone, requested the Speaker to refer a ruling given by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy, Mr Luzipo. The matter occurred in the meeting of 8 March. The matter was asked to be referred to the Rules Committee in terms of rules 8 and 92. In her letter, Ms Mazzone stated that in response to a view raised in the Committee by Mr Mileham another Member, Mr Kula, stated his objection was based on the superiority of whiteness and nothing else. It was stated by Mr Kula that because Mr Mileham was white he thought he was correct. Ms Mazzone states that Mr Mileham asked the Chairperson to make a ruling as to whether it was parliamentary to claim that his position was attributable to his race. The Chairperson ruled that Mr Kula was expressing a political opinion. In terms of rules 8 and 92, the Speaker was empowered to refer a ruling to the Rules Committee. The Subcommittee may only consider the principle on which a ruling was based. In terms of the NA rules, ‘the Rules Committee may deal with the referral in terms of Paragraph (a) as it deems fit, provided that it must confine itself to the principle underlying, or subject matter of, the ruling concerned, and may not in any manner consider the specific ruling which is final and binding’. When referring the matter to the subcommittee for consideration the Speaker identified the principle involved as the application of a limitation on freedom of speech and the permissibility of Members making racial inferences and remarks in relation to other Members. The question before the Committee was how it wished to proceed with the matter. Did the principle involve freedom of speech? Was it permissible for one Member to allege or infer that another Member was racist?
The Chairperson said that before the Members engaged, she wanted to remind the Members of a previous meeting where a letter with this kind of ruling was referred to the subcommittee. The options were either to call the parties involved or to deal with the principle. The subcommittee was not to call anyone to appear before it. The subcommittee was required to look into the principle and deal with the principle of the ruling. The subcommittee was not to get into the merits of what happened in that meeting. The subcommittee dealt with the matter that dealt with the EFF and the presiding officer at the time who was Mr Dyantyi. The subcommittee dealt with the principle and not the merits of the matter. The Speaker had identified the principle in this matter of the ruling.
Ms Gwarube said that having read the discussion document on this and having seen how the matter was dissected to really extract what the principle of the matter was, she agreed with the Chairperson. It was not within the ambit of the subcommittee to go back into history and what happened in committees. The subcommittee had to dissect what the principle of the matter was. This was not the first time nor would it be the last time that Members accuse each other of racism in the House. There was one particular ruling that she was still waiting for where a Member in the House accused all Indian South Africans of being racist. She referred that for a ruling. If the subcommittee was going to ascertain the principle here that while the subcommittee could affirm the principle of freedom of speech, it had its limitations. To label somebody as racist or allege that someone was racist was not in the spirit of the House. If the subcommittee agreed about the fact that people could not go around calling other members of Parliament racist it would assist in other rulings, as there was still an outstanding matter of calling all Indian South Africans racist. It was an important matter to decide on. Her view was that the subcommittee should be clear and unequivocal about the fact that while it protected freedom of speech in the House, Members could not go around labelling other members as racist. A Member could not simply shut down debate by calling a whole race group of people racist.
The Chairperson said that the Members were in agreement that the Subcommittee should affirm the principle of the ruling, the principle of freedom of speech and the need for Members to refrain from making allegations of racism against other Members.
Ms Gwarube said that she was in agreement.
Mr Papo asked if the principle was on racism because it could be tribalism, sexism or homophobia? Did it include other intolerances or was this specifically on racism? All sort of generalisation about a people was a problem.
Mr Xaso said that if there were related issues that the subcommittee wished to emphasise then it should use the opportunity so that it did not have to come back to a similar matter. It was an opportunity to cover the issues that Mr Papo had raised. The subcommittee needed to affirm the principle of these issues.
The Chairperson said that the Subcommittee was in agreement that all the issues Mr Papo raised, the subcommittee reaffirmed them. Members needed to refrain from raising those issues against other Members. The Chairperson noted that Members needed to be patient with each other when dealing with the rules in the Subcommittee. The Sixth Parliament was not a normal one. There were people who were hell-bent on disrupting the House. The rules that were being amended were rules that needed to stand the test of time. The rules were not being amended for a specific party or specific people. The rules needed to be used for generations to come. Amending the rules was not a once-off event. It was a continuous thing. The rulebook was a living document. The subcommittee would keep on amending. Sometimes the Members might not agree but the members needed to keep what it was that they wanted to achieve in the House at the back of their minds. They were supposed to be honourable Members and not horrible Members of Parliament.
Mr Papo said that earlier on Mr Dyantyi raised an issue and the Chairperson said it would be dealt with at the end of the meeting. Was the subcommittee still going to do that?
Mr Xaso said that Mr Dyantyi was no longer in the meeting.
Mr Papo said that Mr Dyantyi could raise it with the Chairperson and then it could be brought onto the agenda.
Mr Xaso said that the Speaker writes to the Executive quarterly on questions that had not been responded to. The Speaker wrote to the LOGB and the affected Ministers for them to provide reasons. That was what had been happening up until now. Mr Dyantyi would indicate what aspect of that he wanted to raise for the next meeting.
Mr Singh said that in one of the Committees it was decided that there would be a parliamentary committee as well. The Speaker would be given an opportunity but if those Ministers had still not responded then the matter would be taken further.
Mr Papo said he did not understand what Mr Singh was talking about. When the rules were amended last year it was said that if time had lapsed that those questions would be added to the questions for oral reply in the House during cluster meetings. The rules were amended but there was a problem with Members generalising that Ministers did not answer questions. There was a problem of generalising things. Parliament should highlight which specific Ministers had not answered questions and not say that Ministers, generally, were not accountable to Parliament. Last year there were over 100 questions that were not answered out of over a thousand questions. It created an impression of people not being accountable.
Ms Lesoma said that Mr Papo was correct. There were matters that needed to be raised with the LOGB. Serial offenders who had not responded were required to respond to the questions that Members had asked. In the next meeting, the subcommittee should get a picture of which Ministers had not responded so that those Ministers could be focused. The subcommittee needed to see if there had been any improvement in the matter.
Ms Gwarube said that the point had been well made. The reality was that Ministers had to answer questions. There was a reason why the rules stipulated that the Ministers had ten days to answer written questions. The rules also provided for written questions that were not answered to then be asked in an oral fashion. If there were over 100 questions that were about to lapse at the end of a parliamentary term it was impractical to find space for them to be answered in an oral questions session. She agreed with Ms Lesoma that there should be a list of serial offenders. The DA collated those statistics and knew which Ministers were the serial offenders. She accepted the point of not generalising the whole Cabinet but ultimately there had to be a system that was not ad hoc. The LOGB needed to be given a list of the questions that were not being answered. Then it should be escalated because there were some Ministers who would not answer questions for an entire year. Only when those Ministers were shamed about it would they do a ‘data dump’ at the end of the year. That defeated the whole purpose and made a mockery of the whole process. She agreed with Ms Lesoma about flagging the serial offenders and that there should be an intervention that was not an ad hoc one, that dealt specifically with the LOGB. The serial offenders were bringing the collective Cabinet into disrepute by not accounting to Parliament.
The Chairperson thanked the members for their views on these matters. She hoped it would be attended to and that the subcommittee would get responses in the next meeting on Friday. She thanked the members of the subcommittee and the officials of the NA Table for attending the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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