Rules of the National Assembly

06 October 2006
Chairperson: Baleka Mbete, Speaker of the National Assembly
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

These minutes were provided by the National Assembly Table Staff

Bapela, K O (House Chairperson) (Co-Chairperson)
Doidge, G Q M (House Chairperson) (Co-Chairperson)

Harding, A (ID)                                      Modisenyane, L J (ANC)
Ellis, M (DA)                                         Nel, A C (ANC) 
Jeffery, J H (ANC)                                  Njikelana, S J (ANC) (alt)
Kalyan, S (DA)                                      Rajbally, S (MF)
Likotsi, M T (PAC)                                 Seaton, S A (IFP)
Mabe, L L (ANC)                                    Van den Heever, R P Z (ANC)
Mfundisi, I S (UCDP)                              Zita, L (ANC)
Masutha, T M (ANC) (alt)                       

Staff in Attendance:
M Coetzee (Deputy Secretary to Parliament), K Hahndiek (Secretary to National Assembly), K Mansura, M Xaso, T Abell (NA Table), N Keswa (Legislation Oversight Division), M Vassen, F Jenkins (Legal Services), P Lebeko (Clerk of Papers), R Yako (Legislation and Proceedings) and Z Mene (Committee Section)

Apologies were received from:

Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Botha, C-S (House Chairperson), Holomisa, B H (UDM), Kondlo, N C (ANC), Madikiza, G T (UDM) (alt), Mdaka, N M (UIF), Motubatse-Hounkpatin, S D (ANC), Nefolovhodwe, P J (Azapo), Ngaleka, E (ANC), Sithole, D J (ANC) (alt), Smith, V G (ANC) (alt), Van der Merwe, J H (IFP)

Adoption of agenda
The agenda was adopted with the following additions:
Introduction of Personal Device Assistance
Replacement of computers

Consideration of minutes of 14 October 2005
On the motion of Mrs Seaton, seconded by Mr Ellis, the minutes of 14 October 2005 were adopted.

Reports of the Subcommittee on the Review of Rules
Rule changes: Recognition and role of the leader of the Opposition

Adv Masutha reported that, on instruction of the NARC, the subcommittee considered the matter of recognition and role of the leader of the Opposition as referred to them.

After giving the meeting some background on the matter, Adv Masutha reported that the technical aspect of aligning the Rules with the Constitution was within the competency of the subcommittee. However other substantive issues that were raised in the Rules Committee had been referred to the Constitutional Review Committee. It was therefore agreed by the subcommittee that the broader issue should first be resolved whereafter the possibility of Rule changes could be explored.

Mrs Seaton agreed that a broader discussion on the matter was necessary.

Mr Jeffery reminded the meeting that the matter was formally referred to the Constitutional Review Committee by the NARC.

It was agreed:
To await the report from the Constitutional Review Committee in order to consider the broader issue of the title of Leader of the Opposition.
That after consideration of the broader issue, and if necessary, the matter of rule amendments can be engaged with further.

Draft Rules on House Chairpersons
Adv Masutha presented the report of the subcommittee. He reminded the meeting that the Assembly passed a resolution in this regard and that the subcommittee was instructed to give recognition to the policy decision by the House. The subcommittee identified all the rules where amendments were needed for recognition of deputisation.

Mr Nel questioned the correctness of reflecting the Presiding Officers as full members of the Chief Whips’ Forum. He said that the Forum had proposed an amendment in that respect, reflecting the proposed new membership of the Chief Whips’ Forum.

Mrs Seaton agreed with Mr Nel and supported the proposed amendment. Mr Jeffery proposed that the draft rule amendments be agreed to
with the additional amendment as proposed by the Chief Whips’ Forum on the status of the membership of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Chief Whips’ Forum (Rule 218).

It was agreed:
That the Rules as proposed by the subcommittee be adopted with the additional amendment as proposed by the Chief Whips’ Forum on the status of the membership of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Chief Whips’ Forum (Rule 218).

Draft Rules pursuant to adoption of Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (Act 4 of 2004)

Adv Masutha informed the Committee that
the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act was formally referred to the to the Subcommittee on Review of the Joint Rules for the drafting of the necessary Rules. Section 12 of the Act provides for the establishment of a separate committee for each House to deal with breaches of parliamentary privilege.

He said that the Joint Rules Committee had agreed to a proposal by the Subcommittee on Review of the Joint Rules for the establishment of a single committee in the National Assembly to deal with matters relating to contempt of Parliament and misconduct or disciplinary issues, but excluding breaches of the Code of Conduct which would remain with the Joint Standing Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests. The necessary amendments would have to be made in the NA Rules. In the Subcommittee report presented to the Committee, three options were given for the composition of the Committee.

Adv Masutha further briefed the Committee on the aspects that needed attention, namely abuse of free speech and mechanisms to discipline members. He said that this partly emanated from the De Lille-case where the court indicated that there was no mechanism in the Rules to discipline members. He also indicated that a legal opinion from the Parliamentary Legal Services was attached to the Subcommittee report for information.

Mrs Seaton agreed in principle with the report and said that her party prefers option 2 of the option on the composition of the committee. She proposed that the proposed rule 320 be referred to parties for consideration.

Mr Likotsi welcomed the proposed amendments to the rules, but expressed concert that there was no provision for appeal in the process as outlined.

Mr Ellis agreed that the rule changes were most important, but suggested that the rule on abuse of privilege should first be finalised before the rest of the report could be considered. He further proposed that the entire document should be referred back to parties for consideration.

Mr Harding agreed with Mr Ellis and added that such an opportunity would give parties more time to consider the issues. Ms Rajbally also agreed that the document should be referred to parties for consideration.

On the matter of appeals Adv Masutha said that the Powers and Privileges Committee would not make decisions, but would recommend to the House. The difficulty would therefore be to whom should one appeal after the House. Taking a matter on review with courts, if need be, could be an option.

Ms Mabe requested that the heading, “D
raft rules pursuant to adoption of Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Bill” on page 6 of the report be corrected to reflect “Act” and not “Bill”. She also requested that the subcommittee establish what other parliaments do in cases of appeal. She requested that all forms of disciplinary actions be looked at including decisions of a Presiding Officer in the House.

Adv Masutha said that the Subcommittee was of the view that when Presiding Officers make a decision in the House, they were not taking disciplinary action against members. It was therefore the prerogative of the Presiding Officer in the House, to discipline if a member transgressed. Only when a member was suspended from Parliament or a fine was imposed as a result of a disciplinary action was the procedure followed.

It was agreed that:
The Report of the Subcommittee not be adopted immediately.
The matter be referred to parties, for comment on matters raised in the document including annexures.
The Subcommittee should further investigate the matter of appeals in order to provide information at the next meeting.
The Rules Committee to take a decision at the next meeting.

Discussion on Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Regular Exchange Mechanism between the National Assembly and the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China (Item 5 on agenda)
Mr Bapela informed the meeting that the Memorandum of Understanding, as circulated to members was signed by the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China.

This Memorandum of Understanding follows on a Memorandum of Understanding signed by President Mbeki and the Premier of the People’s Republic of China in June 2006. In that document it was agreed that the legislative bodies of the two countries would develop mechanisms to take forward the interaction and co-operation. Mr Bapela also said that the interaction and exchange would take place in all fields, this would be determined annually.

He pointed out that the agreement included inter parliamentary exchange programmes and consultation and coordination in regard to international and regional affairs. The composition of the exchange mechanism would consist of two delegations chaired by the Deputy Speaker and the Vice Chairman of the NPC and the functions and responsibilities of the exchange mechanism are outlined in the memorandum.

The Memorandum of Understanding would be reviewed on a 5-year basis. He said that in order for Parliament to act on the Memorandum of Understanding, it should be ratified by the House.

Mr Njikelana said that the Memorandum of Understanding would add value and re-enforce the working relationship between the two institutions. Additional to this agreement, further agreements have been entered into between a number of entities and their counterparts in China. This facilitated co-operation between the two countries.

Mr Bapela pointed out that this formal Memorandum of Understanding was the first of its kind with another parliament since the democratic dispensation.

Mr Doidge commended the team for its work.

It was agreed that:
The Memorandum of Understanding should be referred to the House for ratification.

Report back on Request by Mr J Naidoo to have response to a remark by a member recorded.
Mr Hahndiek reported that the Task Team, which was appointed by the Speaker on the matter, advised the Speaker that Mr Naidoo be given an opportunity to submit his response to the remark by the member. The Speaker informed Mr Naidoo’s lawyer about this decision, but had to date not received any response. A follow-up enquiry was done and Mr Naidoo’s lawyers informed the Speaker that they were still considering the matter.

Mr Hahndiek advised the meeting that currently no further action was needed.

Adv Masutha indicated that this procedure was currently the only recourse available to outsiders. However, the proposal of the subcommittee might avail further options that can be considered.

Matters arising
Mr Doidge reported that all members on Groupwise were receiving parliamentary papers and committee documents via Groupwise and the IT department was looking into the possibility of rerouting this service to members not currently using Groupwise.

Mrs Seaton raised the concern that although documents are received, some committee documents arrive very late, sometimes as late as on the same day as the meeting.

Mr Doidge undertook to investigate the matter and report back to the committee.

Mr Jeffery suggested that procedurally only agreed matters should be looked at when considering matters arising and all discussion points

Mr Njikelana enquired why only some committees were making use of sms messaging, as this seemed to be a valuable form of communication. He further asked if the distribution of committee documents included minutes of committee meetings. Currently the only accessible minutes were from PMG, which were not official parliamentary documents. The lack of committee minutes was problematic as there was no official record that could be referred to for follow-up work. Mr Njikelana enquired what should be available on the website as it can be a helpful tool from which to source documents.

Ms Mene reported that the Committee Section was trying to implement a sms communication system. The committee secretaries are receiving cellphone allowances for that purpose. She also said that only final minutes of committee meetings were published, as draft minutes were not official documents. There was however a problem as most committees do not, as a matter of practice adopt their minutes.

Mr Xaso reported that the Parliamentary Programme was getting updated on the website on a weekly basis. Mrs Seaton requested that the responsible staff should again look at the programme reflected on the website to check if the updates were indeed being done.

Ms Mabe raised a concern that a lot of the information reflected on the website was wrong, this included names and initials of members and office bearers.

Mr Hahndiek said that the availability of information on the website was a problem and that was being addressed. The Secretary to Parliament would be requested to forward a report on the matter for the information of members.

Mr Jeffery requested the House Chairperson: Committees to look into the matter
of non-production of Portfolio Committee minutes and should raise it in the Committee of Chairpersons. It was concerning that it was only PMG that produce minutes, this was problematic as these documents are quoted in court cases and in the absence of any other records people fall back on the PMG source. Mr Hahndiek emphasised that PMG minutes has no official standing.

Mr Masutha agreed that the lack of official minutes was problematic as people tend to fall back to the PMG documents as there was no alternative evidence to counter that.

Committee Services

It was agreed that:
The House Chairperson: Committees should look in to the matter of late receipt of committee papers via Groupwise, and report back to the NARC.
The House Chairperson: Committees should look into the matter of non-production of Portfolio Committee minutes and raise it in the Committee of Chairpersons.


It was agreed that:
A report is required on problems resulting in extent of mistakes on Parliamentary website.

Additional items
Personal Device Assistance (PDA)

Mr Lebeko informed the committee that the assessment of the PDA’s was just completed and a decision was taken on the model that would be used. An order would be placed during the coming week and it was expected that the devices for the pilot project would be received by November, all other members will receive devices in the next financial year. Delays were experienced due to problems with the bandwidth of the website and hardware infrastructure problems. It was expected that the pilot project would start in January 2007 and that it would run for 3 months.

Mrs Seaton asked if the devices were received in November, why the pilot project would only start next year and if the pilot rollout was still to whips and chairpersons of committees. She further asked what features they were looking at with the devices as different members have different needs.

Mr Lebeko informed the meeting that they wanted to start the pilot project in November, but it would not be possible to use all the features. It was envisaged that the project would start with 50 people and that the PDA’s would have both touch screen and keyboard functions. Nokia was releasing a new product in November which was easily linkable and that would provide different options for members.

Mr Njikelana asked that when looking at devices the work intensity of people should be taken into account and agreed that the one shoe fits all approach was very high risk. Mr Masutha agreed that diversity should be accommodated and requested that the needs of disable people should be taken into account from the start and not as an after thought.

Mr Nel requested members to remain focused on the role of the NA Rules Committee. The Committee should focus on the core mandate e.g. legislation and assess what the systems would do to bring in to support the core mandate.

Mr Ellis raised a concern that officials decide what members want. He suggested that informed MP’s should be consulted on decisions.

Mr Njikelana agreed that members are victims of officials taking decisions. He said that, as members do not have access to POA decisions and discussions, it is unclear how they interact or submit issues to the structure.

Ms Mabe agreed that members must have a say in the tools they need and said that Parliament under-spent on members’ support. She requested the NA Rules Committee to look at the needs of members to enable them to do their work effectively.

Mrs Seaton raised the concern that members are not informed about what is happening.

Mr Doidge suggested that the matter be referred to the Quarterly Consultative Forum and that he would undertake to personally follow up on the matter.

It was agreed that:
Given its mandates, the Rules Committee should get a presentation of what the proposed technology will bring in to enhance core business so that the Committee can determine broad parameters.
There needs to be interaction with Members of Parliament on the proposed technology, so that members can have a say in the tools they need for their functioning.
The matter should also be referred to the Quarterly Consultative Forum for that Forum to devise means of consulting the broader membership on members’ requirements.

Replacement of computers
Mrs Seaton informed the meeting that a member has lost a computer in July 2005 through theft out of a locked office. In spite of letters to the Members’ Interest Office, the Secretary to Parliament and the Speaker these computers had not yet been replaced. At the same time some other members’ computers were replaced immediately.

Mr Masutha suggested that members could look at insurance if they have problems replacing their computers.

Mr Doidge suggested that with the assistance of the NA Table relevant correspondence would be traced, whereupon he would request a report from the administration on the current status of replacement of stolen computers and take the matter up with the Speaker.

It was agreed that:

The NA Table should assist with tracing relevant correspondence, whereupon Mr Doidge would request a report from the administration on the current status of replacement of stolen computers and take up the matter with the Speaker.

The meeting adjourned at 12:45.


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