/ 5 September 2007

Manto theft question rouses Assembly

There was an uproar in the National Assembly on Wednesday when Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Mike Waters was ordered to leave after a written question he posed to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was ruled out of order.

Speaker Baleka Mbete ruled the question — whether Tshabalala-Msimang had been convicted of theft in 1976 while employed at a hospital in Botswana, and whether she had disclosed this information to President Thabo Mbeki when she was appointed to her portfolio — to be out of order.

”I have ruled the question by Mr Waters out of order because it transgresses the rules and practice of the National Assembly … which forbid the use of offensive or unbecoming language.

”It is patently clear from the question that was submitted … that it reflected on the integrity of the minister, as it implies impropriety on her part,” said Mbete.

It is an ”established principle of this House that allegations against another member can only be brought before the House by way of a substantive motion”, she said.

”Such a motion should be properly motivated and substantiated. Members cannot be allowed to reflect on the integrity of others in the form of questions, or other means, other than through the mechanisms that this House has imposed upon itself.

”So I have ruled the question out of order and I am not going to allow a debate on the matter,” she said.

Her ruling provoked an uproar from DA benches, with both DA MPs Ian Davidson and Tertius Delport rising on points of order, but being ordered to take their seats by Mbete. Waters himself then rose, and called on Mbete to tell him which words in his question were ”unbecoming”.

Mbete told him to take his seat, saying she was finished with the matter, but Waters repeated: ”I would like you to direct me those words!”

She then ordered him out of the House. Waters initially refused to leave, and Mbete repeated her order for him to do so seven or eight times.

”This is a farce, an absolute farce … you’re covering up for a thief,” Waters shouted, causing further uproar among MPs before storming out of the House. — Sapa