Parliament set for another showdown on Thursday


The circus that is the National Assembly these days is expected to witness another fallout between the opposition parties and the majority African National Congress (ANC) after a 25-minute special sitting was called by Speaker Baleka Mbete – reportedly to ensure that Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs are suspended without pay before Christmas.

This follows the failure of a political deal struck between the opposition and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa which was meant to break the impasse in Parliament early this week.

The entertainment begins on Wednesday afternoon when a programme committee will debate the programme for the 25-minute sitting.

The first and main item of the agenda – proposed by the ANC on Tuesday – is the adoption of a report of the powers and privileges committee, which found EFF MPs guilty of contempt of Parliament, and proposed sanctions of up to 30 days suspension from Parliament – without pay.

This follows the Power and Privileges Committee’s investigation into the events of 21 August when EFF MPs brought Parliament into a standstill demanding that President Jacob Zuma pay back some of the money used in the security upgrades done to his private Nkandla residence.

Alternative programme

However, opposition parties have rejected the proposed agenda, and instead are tabling their own item on the agenda – getting President Jacob Zuma to come to the National Assembly to answer questions.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said that it strongly objects to this provisional programme.

“The proposed programme will currently run for all of 25 minutes, and only includes the consideration of five reports, including the report on investigation into the events of 21 August,” the party’s Chief Whip, Mike Waters, said.

“This is completely unacceptable for a number of reasons:

  • Because the reports are simply being “considered” by the House, there will be no time for debates on the reports. This means that there will be no time for a debate on the Powers and Privileges Committee report. This report is deeply flawed as the committee used clearly inappropriate methodology to suit the ANC’s agenda. It must be debated.
  • Any special sitting must include questions to the President. He has not yet answered questions in Parliament this term as required by the rules. It is shameful that the ANC today again refused to consider any suggestion that the President answer questions.
  • The cost to the tax payer for convening this 25 minute session will be enormous. The vast majority of the 400 MPs have already left Cape Town for their constituencies, and most will now have to be flown back to Parliament at the state’s expense. A 25 minute sitting bereft of any substance or debate does not merit this expenditure."

Waters said that the bottom line is that the ANC has once again done everything in its power to stop questions to President Zuma and to undermine open debate in the House.

It remains to be seen which side will concede.

“The problem with the opposition parties is that they are against one item, which is the report of the powers and privileges committee. I don’t understand it because if I disobey the rules of Parliament and I act in a manner that is disruptive, I must be held accountable.

“The opposition parties are united in not wanting people to be held accountable. So that is why they are protesting against the sitting on Thursday,” ANC’s deputy chief whip, Doris Dlakude, told the Mail & Guardian.

She added that the opposition parties were “demanding the president” was ill-founded as there was a process when it came to asking the president questions.

“Questions must be sent to the president, and then there must be a date for him to come and answer those questions in the House.

“We must also remember that it’s not that the president doesn’t want to come and answer questions – he was here on August 21. He responded to those questions.”

Dlakude said it would be impossible for Zuma to be in Parliament on Thursday or before the end of this year.

“Standing here, I don’t know where the president is. He has a very hectic schedule,” she said.

Massive expense for 25 minutes

“The ANC is prepared to fly in all 400 MPs, at great cost to the state, to host a 25 minute ceremonial adoption of reports. The special sitting has all the time in the world to debate the reports and for President Zuma to answer questions,” decried Waters.

“This proposed agenda is an insult to Parliament and cannot stand.

“We will object to the ANC’s programme in tomorrow’s programming meeting and reiterate our demands for the President to come answer questions on Thursday.”

Meanwhile, the EFF has called for a joint media briefing which will be held today, Wednesday, at 12pm at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein Campus.