/ 6 September 2007

DA MP ejected from Parliament

Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Mike Waters has been suspended from Parliament following his outburst in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

At the start of proceedings in the House on Thursday afternoon, speaker Baleka Mbete described his conduct of the day before as ”outrageous, disrespectful and grossly disorderly”.

”Your conduct yesterday [Wednesday] was of so serious a nature that I am left with no choice but to suspend you for a period of five parliamentary working days …,” she told Waters.

She asked him to leave the House and parliamentary precinct immediately, which he did.

On Wednesday, there was an uproar in the House when Mbete told Waters to leave after a written question he posed to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang — on whether she had been convicted of theft in 1976 while employed at a hospital in Botswana — was ruled out of order.

Her ruling on the question prompted an outburst from Waters, including him telling Mbete: ”This is a farce, an absolute farce … you’re covering up for a thief, Madame Speaker.”

On Thursday, Mbete gave a ruling on this incident.

”Yesterday I requested the Honourable Waters to withdraw from the Chamber after he had pointedly refused to abide by my ruling that the matter at hand was not open to debate.

”He even attempted further to cross-examine the Chair.

”Mr Waters initially refused to obey my instruction to leave the House. In fact, he repeatedly stated he would not do so by posing a direct challenge to the authority of the Chair.

”He furthermore engaged in conduct which cannot be described other than outrageous, disrespectful and grossly disorderly.

”In the remarks he directed at the Chair, subsequent to being directed to leave the House, he cast serious aspersions on the competence and integrity of the speaker, and on the proceedings of this House.

”He also repeated several times — deliberately and brazenly — the allegation contained in the question which had already been ruled unparliamentary.”

Mbete said a member was allowed to disagree with a ruling in a ”civilised manner”, but had to accept the word of the presiding officer.

Having had time to reflect on what had happened, she was of the opinion that instructing Waters to withdraw from the Chamber on Wednesday had not been ”sufficient vindication of his conduct”.

After Waters left the House on Thursday, DA chief whip Ian Davidson attempted to address Mbete, but she refused to entertain more debate on her ruling.

There was then a mass exodus by DA MPs, including DA leader in the House, Sandra Botha. Only those DA MPs who had motions to deliver remained.

In a statement later on Thursday, Botha said her party had walked out to ”defend democracy”.

”The DA believes Mr Waters’s suspension was outrageously unfair and makes a mockery of Parliament’s oversight function.

”The questions he originally posed to the [health] minister had already been answered outside of Parliament, and even her spokesperson told newspapers that [she] would be answering the question in Parliament.

”While the speaker has the discretion to interpret Parliament’s rules, we believe her reasoning for first not allowing the question and then suspending Mr Waters holds no water; the only objective she achieved was to protect the minister from public scrutiny.

”The DA would not sit in the chamber today [Thursday] and form part of the speaker’s undermining of democracy. We had no option but to walk out in protest,” Botha said.

Mbete told MPs on Thursday the controversial question had not been ruled out of order earlier ”owing to an administrative oversight”.

Later in the House, Davidson moved a substantive motion calling for the appointment of an ad hoc committee to investigate whether Tshabalala-Msimang was ”fit to hold public office”, and noting she had been convicted of theft in 1976. — Sapa