The parliamentary rules affecting the proposed debate on the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma brought by eight of the 11 opposition parties are about to be aired in the Constitutional Court.
National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu filed a supplementary affidavit with the court on the progress achieved in ensuring that motions of no confidence were appropriately provided for in Parliament. As he was uncertain whether opposition parties and the ANC would achieve consensus in time for the court proceedings and as he had to remain impartial, Sisulu said he had asked his legal team to prepare a draft proposal of new rules.
Among the new rules in the draft proposal, it is stated that the speaker must schedule the motion after consultation with the leader of government business, the chief whip of the majority party and the chief whip's forum. When scheduled, consideration of the motion of no confidence must take place within a reasonable time, but no later than 12 sitting days.
Opposition parties and the ANC met on Wednesday, but again failed to reach consensus.
The Democratic Alliance's spokesperson on justice and constitutional development, Debbie Schafer, said the parties were fairly close to reaching an agreement with the ANC, but the main issue of contention had been the ANC's proposal to give the speaker discretion to decide whether or not a motion of no confidence could be debated.
Sisulu was given a directive by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to file a progress report on the review of the rules with the registrar of the court by March 14. This is intended to assist the court on March 28, when it will hear an application by DA leader Lindiwe Mazibuko for leave to appeal a Western Cape High Court judgment by Judge Dennis Davis.
Last year, Mazibuko sought an urgent order directing the speaker to take steps to ensure the no confidence debate took place on or before November 22. Davis identified a "lacuna" in the parliamentary rules, as he said a motion of no-confidence in the president was inherently urgent, the timing and scheduling of the motion could not be delayed unreasonably and steps must be taken to ensure it was scheduled expeditiously. However, Davis found that the National Assembly's rules did not empower Sisulu to schedule a debate and a vote on the motion, and thus the court could not order him to do what the rules did not permit.
In his progress report to the Constitutional Court, Sisulu said he had referred the matter to the National Assembly's subcommittee on review of assembly rules, which had been directed to report to the first meeting of the rules committee in early 2013. When the subcommittee met a second time, the ANC tabled a new draft of the rules.
"The members representing the opposition parties indicated they did not have a mandate pertaining to the new draft and needed to discuss it with their parties," said Sisulu.
Cope MP Juli Kilian had unusual praise for Sisulu. "The speaker has now made a recommendation on the rules and he tried to find a common ground between the ANC position and the opposition position. The speaker understands that we are actually building an institution for generations to come."
This congeniality contrasted with the affidavit filed to the Constitutional Court by the ANC chief whip in the National Assembly, Mathole Motshekga, who said he believed that the motion of no confidence in Zuma was "frivolous" and "constituted political posturing".