Opposition parties could withdraw from EFF hearing

The disciplinary hearing into the behaviour of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs when they heckled President Jacob Zuma in August could be derailed by a possible withdrawal of opposition parties from the inquiry due to their unhappiness around the disciplinary process.

Wednesday will be D-day for opposition’s continued participation in the Powers and Privileges Committee’s disciplinary process. They want the committee to, among other things, consider an 89-point submission made by EFF leader Julius Malema to the hearing last Tuesday, saying that the refusal by the committee to deal with the points made by Malema, which impact directly on the proceedings, meant the inquiry was procedurally incorrect.

Sources have told the Mail & Guardian that the opposition is planning to withdraw from the process. The M&G is in possession of a letter signed by Democratic Alliance (DA), United Democratic Movement, EFF and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) representatives in that committee. The letter is dated October 9 and is addressed to the chairperson of the Powers and Privileges Committee, Lemias Mashile.

In the letter, the opposition MPs raise concerns about how the committee has not been appraised of and considered the individual charges against each of the accused EFF members and why the charges had been brought in each case.

They also raise concern about the committee not having been appraised of and considered the full list of witnesses it intends to call to give evidence.

The major issue, though, for the opposition is the refusal by the committee to deal with the points made by EFF leader Julius Malema in his opening submission, “which impact directly on the proceedings … This is procedurally incorrect”, reads the letter.

The opposition charges that the matters raised by Malema in his submission should have been considered and disposed of before the commencement of proceedings. “We therefore wish to place on record our unease with the continuation of the work of the committee in the absence of any resolution of these matters.”

“We remain concerned that the process and its findings could well be jeopardised by the failure to properly deal with these matters,” said the opposition MPs.

They suggested that the committee get proper legal opinion on the matters they have raised to ensure that the administrative justice and procedural fairness provision referred to in the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act were effected.

“We wish to advise further that unless due consideration is given to these concerns and that they are disposed of satisfactorily, we shall have no choice but to reconsider our options in this regard,” they threatened towards the end of the letter.

Can’t be raised as evidence
Malema’s presentation was thrown out by the committee with its chairperson, Lemias Mashile, stating that it could not be considered as evidence, but that the issues raised in the statement could or could have been raised as evidence by the charged members at the appropriate time during the proceedings. 

The committee also resolved that it cannot withdraw the charges against EFF MPs as demanded by Malema in his statement.

Mashile said there was no provision in the law and in the rules to allow withdrawal of charges against members, and therefore the committee could not concede to the withdrawal of charges against the affected members. “It does not have the powers to do so.”

DA MP in the committee, Annelie Lotriet told the M&G on Tuesday: “At this point, we are not withdrawing in any way, but we would like to hear from the chairperson of the committee whether he would address our concerns as a matter of urgency.”

She said that the situation was that as opposition they were voicing their concerns regarding procedure. They expected a response when the committee meets on Wednesday.

“We are uncomfortable about the fact that we did not have any knowledge of who the witnesses would be. We don’t have any idea who decided on the witnesses for example,” she added. “We did not have any input, we are concerned about the fact that the whole process has basically been decided on without the input of the committee itself.”

Lotriet was the first to propose that Malema’s submission be considered. Speaking on behalf of the opposition parties last Wednesday, she said they were concerned that the matters raised by Malema especially those relating to procedure were not dealt with before the inquiry continued with the leading of evidence.

Attempt to correct
IFP MP Albert Mncwango also rejected the suggestions that they would withdraw. He however said they will be guided by what happens on Wednesday. “We are not aware of the withdrawal, but it will all depend on what transpires from the process, obviously if something fundamentally wrong takes place, we will attempt to correct that and obviously I don’t think that parties want to be part to a process which is not credible and not fair,” he said.

He admitted that there were outstanding issues, and “as we are going to the meeting tomorrow, we will put those issues on the table and see how far we go”.

The inquiry resumes on Wednesday.

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