Referral to National Assembly for clarity on Committee's Mandate

Ad Hoc Committee - President's Submission in response to Public Protector's Report on Nkandla

29 September 2014
Chairperson: Mr S Tshabalala (Representing the Speaker)
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Meeting Summary

Mr S Tshabalala, Committee Section Manager, introduced himself and said that he was, in terms of Rue 131, representing the Secretary for Parliament, to facilitate the election of a Chairperson for the Committee. He called on the parties to make their nominations. However, the DA raised a point of order, and suggested that until there was absolute clarity on the terms of reference for the Committee, there would be no point in electing a Chairperson, since that person would have to be in a position to know how to chair the meeting. ANC Members made the point that the ad hoc committee had been authorised by Parliament, following a full debate in the House, and believed that the Committee could not proceed until a Chairperson had been elected. and there was a debate in the House as to how it should be set up. The Chairperson had to be elected to deal with any debates on processes. The FF+, EFF and IFP representatives agreed that clarity was needed. There had been a debate on what the Committee must do, and although the Chief Whip of the ANC had given an assurance that the Committee would not be restricted only to considering the President’s reply to the report of the Public Protector, that had not been reduced to writing as part of the Committee’s mandate. They felt that it was necessary to get absolute clarity on the point, if necessary referring to the Hansard transcripts, to give the necessary context to the decision of the House and the guarantee given by the Chief Whip of the ANC. The DA maintained that the matter was relevant because of the previous history and debates during a similar committee convened in the Fourth Parliament. The IFP said that the Speaker should, in terms of Rule 215(4), specify the tasks assigned to the Committee, and the ANC countered that it was highly unlikely that the ANC would renege on the specific undertakings of the Chief Whip given in the House. The opposition parties stated that whilst they had supported the House’s previous resolution, they still believed that there should be a written statement of the mandate. The proposal made was then put to Members specifically by Mr Tshabalala, that the matter be referred back to the House to clarify the mandate of the Committee and was supported by all parties.

Meeting report

Call for nominations for Chairperson, and points of order
Mr S Tshabalala, Section Manager, Committee Section, Parliament, introduced himself, and noted that he was representing the Secretary for Parliament in terms of Rule 131, to facilitate the election of the Committee Chair.

He called upon the Members to nominate a Chairperson for the Committee.

Mr M Maimane (DA) thanked the Committee Secretary for convening the meeting. He submitted that there was a challenge in calling for nominations for the Chairperson at this point, because his party believed that there was not yet clarity on the terms of reference. It was incumbent on the Committee to give clarity on that point so that the Chairperson would know exactly how to chair the meeting.

Dr M Motshekga (ANC) responded that, with due respect, this ad hoc committee was authorised by Parliament and there had been a debate in the House as to how it should be set up. The Chairperson had to be elected because prior to that happening, there was nobody who could deal with the issues that Mr Maimane was raising. He submitted that it was quite correct to elect a Chairperson first.

Ms M Kubayi (ANC) noted that currently there was nobody officially in the Chair. The Secretary to Parliament had called a meeting to elect a Chairperson for the Committee. She believed that only Members could drive discussions after that had happened. She maintained that the rules and procedures were clear, and that ad hoc committees were established in terms of a resolution by the House, so there was no question on how the Committee had been established. She agreed that a Chairperson should be elected to deal with any other discussions on processes.

Dr C Mulder (FF+) said that the Parliamentary Rules did not say that the purpose of the first meeting of any ad hoc committee was to elect a Chair only. Rule 131 said that the Secretary would have to call a meeting within five days, and Mr Tshabalala was at this stage representing the Secretary of Parliament to deal with the election of a Chairperson. He agreed that clarity was needed, in terms of the rules.  The purpose of this ad hoc Committee was to look at the reply of the President in relation to the Nkandla issues, but exactly what the Committee could consider was disputed, when the decision was taken to establish this Committee. An amendment was then moved, during the debate, because it was felt that the terms initially proposed were too restrictive. The majority party gave an assurance that this ad hoc Committee would not be restricted merely to considering the reply of the President to the report of the Public Protector, but that it could deal with all relevant reports and documentation around the whole issue. He suggested that the meeting should, if it considered it necessary, get clarity from the Secretary of Parliament even before proceeding to the election of a Chairperson. He pointed out that it may be necessary to call for the Hansard transcript of the debate and the discussions, to give the necessary context to the decision of the House and the guarantee given by the Chief Whip of the ANC.

Mr J Malema (EFF) said that Mr Tshabalala was, in his current role, representing the Speaker of the NA. If he was unable to provide clarity on the terms of reference, then he suggested that the Speaker should be called to clarify the purpose of the Committee. If the purpose was stated as being to discuss the reply of the President only, then he believed that this was incorrect. Members must, in his view, be allowed to consider and discuss the report of the Public Protector and all other relevant documentation and issues. The Chief Whip of the ANC had given an assurance that the terms would be extended to this, and he did not believe that the Committee should be confined to looking only at the President’s letter, but all issues. He repeated the assertion earlier that the person nominated as Chairperson must know exactly what he or she was to preside over.

Mr F Beukman (ANC) said that it was not possible for a Committee not yet officially instituted without a Chairperson to review a decision of the House, and there was clear precedent on how committees operated. For instance, a Portfolio Committee was deemed instituted when the Chairperson was elected and the Committee was thus able to decide on the way forward and how it should conduct its business. He suggested that the Committee continue with the election of the Chairperson so that it could then deal with the issues before it.

Dr Motshekga said that, with due respect, the issues being raised now were hotly debated in the House and at the end of the discussions, the Chief Whip of the ANC had given the undertaking that nothing would be left out, and named the documents that he felt should be available for discussion. The House resolved that it was not necessary to amend the resolution to specifically include other matters. He wondered why these matters were being raised now, since once a Chairperson had been elected, all issues could be debated in full again. He stressed that the Committee needed a Chair. Members would be granted the fullest freedom to express their views. He could not see where the problem lay. To ask an official or even the Speaker to preside over an ad hoc Committee would be irregular. He pleaded with the Members now to proceed to elect the Chair, after which all other issues could and may be raised.

Mr J Selfe (DA) said that this point was relevant, because of the history of the matter. During the Fourth Parliament a similar committee was convened, and substantial time was spent on debating what the terms of reference would be. At one point, the Chairperson of that Committee had asked Mr M Xaso, Secretary to the NA, to attend the meeting to confirm the understanding of the Secretariat on the terms of reference, and he submitted that it was relevant to do this again. If there was not clarity on the terms, by those terms being placed specifically on the table, the Committee would have difficulty in proceeding as suggested.

Dr Motshekga asked to follow up on his previous comment.

Mr Malema raised a point of order, objecting to the fact that Mr Tshabalala had indicated that Dr Motshekga could speak. There were other Members waiting their turn and he did not want this meeting to be dominated by one individual.

Dr Motshekga assured the Committee that he was not intending to dominate the debate. He felt that the interpretation of the mandate of the Committee still to be formally constituted could not depend on Mr Tshabalala, because the matter had already been dealt with by the NA. It was the Members of Parliament themselves who had a responsibility to interpret the mandate. He called again for the election of the Chairperson, and said that if members were not agreed on that point, then it may be necessary to call for Hansard and see what exactly was recorded there.

Mr Malema said that he did not trust the Chief Whip of the ANC, and that was why he wanted the precise terms of reference, allowing the Committee to consider all documentation, to be clearly set out. He pleaded that Members should get the Hansard transcript to decide how to proceed, then elect a Chairperson, so that this person would be elected with the full knowledge of what was expected of the Committee.

Mr N Singh (IFP) said that there was no doubt that the Committee was properly established by a resolution of the House. However, Rule 215(4)(a) said that the Speaker must specify the task assigned to the Committee – and that was the question on the table.  Without clarity on that, it was difficult to proceed. The Office of the Speaker should specify the mandate, so that this Committee did not work outside the tasks specifically set for it.

Ms D Dlakude (ANC) said that it was a pity if Members did not believe in the resolutions taken on the day when the matter was debated in the NA. The Chief Whip of the ANC was clear on what was said, and she still believed that this would happen. Furthermore, the EFF had supported the resolution and proposals in the House. She begged for indulgence to proceed to nominate the Chair. Members – including those from the ANC – knew that the debate and undertaking of the Chief Whip were recorded in Hansard, and there was no intention for the ANC to go back on its word. If Members did not agree on this point, then she requested Mr Tshabalala to refer back to the Secretary of Parliament for clarity, so that a decision could be taken. She reiterated that she did not believe that the Members would resolve on something in the House and then go back on their word. This Committee would be complying with what was said in the House during the debate setting up this Committee.

Mr Tshabalala said that there was a proposal on the table that the matter be referred back for clarity. He asked if that proposal was supported.

Dr Mulder said that the parties did not seem to be too far apart. The Rules clearly stated that the Committee would take its mandate from the resolution of the House. However, things were a little more complex this time round because the resolution was taken in a certain context of a specific assurance having been given in the House. He suggested that Members move forward on the resolution and the text of the Hansard.

Mr Malema agreed that the intervention by the Deputy Chief Whip was important. The EFF had supported the resolution in the House, but this must be captured in the form of a written undertaking that, amongst others, the Committee could look to the Public Protector’s report and other necessary documentation. That communication must be reduced to writing so that the elected Chairperson would know what exactly the mandate was.

Mr Maimane said that the point was well made. He did not have a problem in trusting the Chief Whip of the ANC, but it was necessary, to understand the broad reference and instructions from the Chief Whip. The written mandate would be a good central point, to guide the Chairperson.

Ms Dlakude clarified that the Chief Whip did not direct Chairpersons, and they fell under the Speaker.

Ms Kubayi suggested that there had been some dramatic discussion on the point, and suggested that at this point the meeting should perhaps be adjourned.

Mr Malema raised a point of order, objecting to the suggestion that there had been “drama” in the meeting.

Dr Motshekga reminded Members that a proposal had been made to refer the matter to the Secretary of Parliament. The question was whether the Members agreed on that point, and if they did, then it would be apposite to close the meeting.

Ms Dlakude reminded Members that she had still held the floor at the time when Mr Malema had interrupted.

Mr Malema said that he had asked for a ruling and wanted the reference to “drama” to be withdrawn.

Mr Tshabalala said that the meeting was being distracted and he called on Members now to concentrate on clarifying the procedure to be followed. He repeated the proposals that the matter must be referred back to the House to clarify the mandate of the Committee.

Members from all parties indicated their support for this proposal.

Ms Dlakude requested that all Members of the Committee take their task and this Committee seriously and show the fullest respect towards each other when deliberating on issues.

The meeting was adjourned.


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