ANC seeks to 'pay back' EFF MPs - with suspension

Opposition parties are rallying to get President Jacob Zuma to attend a sitting of the National Assembly - which seems to have been convened just so the ruling party can deal with the EFF. (David Harrison, M&G)

Opposition parties are rallying to get President Jacob Zuma to attend a sitting of the National Assembly - which seems to have been convened just so the ruling party can deal with the EFF. (David Harrison, M&G)

The special sitting of the National Assembly called by speaker Baleka Mbete is scheduled to last a mere 25 minutes, seemingly to ensure that EFF MPs are suspended without pay before the Christmas holidays.

This is revealed in a proposed programme that the majority party presented to the chief whips forum – a consultative forum made up of whips of all parties represented in Parliament.

For the first time in 20 years of democracy, the forum was deadlocked and could not agree on the programme. The programme will now be referred to a programme committee which will sit on Wednesday afternoon.

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 Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs guilty of contempt of Parliament, and proposed sanctions of up to 30 days suspension from Parliament – without pay.

The opposition parties rejected the proposed agenda, and instead tabled their own item on the agenda – getting President Jacob Zuma to come to the National Assembly to answer questions. Neither side would concede.

The ANC’s deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said it was a problem that the opposition would unite against Parliament holding people to account. This was particularly ironic given that the opposition are demanding Zuma’s attendance for the very same reasons – accountability.

“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,” she told the Mail & Guardian, shortly after the meeting fell apart.

‘Impossible for Zuma to make Parliament this year’
Dlakude added that opposition parties were “demanding the president”, but said that 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.

When the M&G asked about the way forward, Dlakude responded, saying “Watch and see, you must watch this space.”

Opposition parties ridiculed Mbete’s decision to recall Parliament for a 25 minute sitting.

EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu said the meeting collapsed because all the opposition parties were saying that the ANC’s proposed programme was ridiculous. “They’ve recalled members from oversight to come back on Thursday for 25 minutes on things that are not necessary.

“It can’t be that people who were deployed by Parliament to do oversight work, and to do constituency work, are recalled for 25 minutes because the ANC wants to vindictively punish the EFF…”

The programme had five reports to be considered on Thursday, with five minutes allocated to each report. The controversial report which proposes the sanctioning of the EFF MPs tops the list, while the other four reports focus on oversight visits that portfolio committees carried out earlier this year.

The motions and members’ statements which, in recent weeks, have been used by political parties to delay the proceedings of the House are not on the draft programme.

The M&G understands that the opposition parties are planning, once again, to use the tactic to delay the adopting of the report sanctioning the EFF.

Parliament convened at ‘enormous expense’
“The meeting collapsed because we were saying that in terms of parliamentary rules, there is a sequence of proceedings that should be adhered to. There should be motions, there should be motions without motions, there should be members’ statements, and there should be other deliberations,” said Shivambu.

“We insisted as well that we want President Zuma to come and account to Parliament. He must utilise this opportunity to finish the business that he could not conclude on 21 August, and the ANC is basically refusing,” he added.

“We do not want to be brought back here just for one issue which is in the interest of the politicians of the ANC.”

Democratic Alliance MP Dion George, who represented the party in the chief whips forum, decried the reconvening of Parliament at “enormous expense” just to deal with the EFF.

“It seems to be very clear what the ANC wants to do; they want to get the item regarding the EFF on to the programme, and they don’t want the president to come and answer questions.

“Our position is very clear: we want a date where the president will come and answer questions this year. We will not agree to anything else,” he said after the meeting.

He said they understood that there needed to be a process to get questions on to the order paper for the president, and that they won’t be unreasonable about that. “But we want to see the president this year, and he must answer questions. That is the bottom line.

“It does not have to be Thursday, but a question must be asked why you would recall Parliament for a session that appears to be 25 minutes long at the moment?

“At what expense to the people? That is not acceptable. We are horrified at what is being proposed,” he added.

Failed peace deal
Freedom Front Plus’ chief whip Corne Mulder said it was the first time in 20 years that a meeting of the chief whips forum ended in the manner it did on Tuesday.

He said MPs had been curious when the speaker announced her decision to reconvene Parliament, and wondered what would be on the agenda.

“We didn’t know what it was about but now the ANC has showed its hand in this meeting. It’s about one item, one issue, and that’s why the programme is scheduled to last for only 25 minutes.”

Mulder said this agenda was pushing through the powers and privileges report, to suspend the EFF members.

“We have said that you are wasting taxpayers’ money. If you want to recall Parliament, make it worthwhile, and also get the president to come and reply.

“We are talking about a couple of millions of rands. Members have travelled across South Africa. I’ve been in the home affairs committee – we have a full programme, and we are booked into hotels…”

Parliament’s committees are indeed on oversight across the country this week, and some, like the energy portfolio committee, are abroad.

A number of the committees announced in press statements on Tuesday that they were going to cut their oversight visits short, while others were postponing their trips due to the sitting scheduled for Thursday.

Parliament announced on Monday night that Mbete had decided to call a sitting of the National Assembly to allow the house to complete its work before going into recess, in accordance with the agreed parliamentary programme framework.

It said that the meetings of the chief whips’ forum and the National Assembly programme committee would be convened to discuss the programme for the sitting.

The EFF disciplinary issue – which was put in abeyance by a political deal struck between the opposition and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – is now back on the table due to the political peace deal failing earlier this week.

The National Assembly’s last scheduled sitting for the year was on November 20. – Mail & Guardian



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