/ 19 November 2014

Motion to rebuke Zuma’s ‘no show’ postponed

Mmusi Maimane said the DA would take the water to another community that needed it.
Mmusi Maimane said the DA would take the water to another community that needed it.

The much-awaited debate on the motion to censure President Jacob Zuma was postponed by the National Assembly on Tuesday night following an agreement of party whips.

The motion was tabled by the Democratic Alliance’s parliamentary leader, Mmusi Maimane, to express disapproval at Zuma “for failing to comply with the rules of the National Assembly”.

Maimane and other opposition party leaders have decried Zuma’s absence from Parliament and his failure to appear before the National Assembly to answer questions as required by the National Assembly rules.

Zuma is required to answer oral questions to the National Assembly four times a year; once in every quarter. He has only done so once this year. Even then, he escaped halfway through the process, when National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete suspended the proceedings after Economic Freedom Fighters MPs demanded that Zuma answer on when he would pay back the money that was spent on non-security measures at his private home in Nkandla.

The National Assembly’s last sitting for this year is on Thursday, and Zuma is not scheduled to return to the House before then.

At 9.15pm when the debate was about to start, DA chief whip John Steenhuisen announced that the whips had agreed to postpone it to Wednesday.

He later told the Mail & Guardian that the debate had been postponed by agreement among parties due to “the lateness of the hour” and that the agreement was that the debate will be on the programme on Wednesday. Steenhuisen added that the ANC had threatened to walk out of the debate.

The spokesperson for the ANC caucus, Moloto Mothapo, laughed off this allegation, saying it didn’t make any sense for the ANC to want to walk out.

Debate on reports
Tuesday saw a marathon sitting by the National Assembly, which started at 10am, with the House considering 38 budget review and recommendation reports. This process included a debate on each report.

Unlike the plenary sessions of the recent weeks, Tuesday’s session went smoothly with few disruptions.

This followed agreements to co-operate and obey the rules that were reached between Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the leader of government business in Parliament, and leaders of the opposition parties.

Disruptions in Parliament
Mbete opened Tuesday’s session by reading out a statement about the events of last Thursday, when the National Assembly sitting was so chaotic that it ended with armed police dragging an EFF MP out of the chamber while a number of DA MPs were left unharmed. “What transpired in the House on Thursday, November 13 2014, is not something that we are proud of, and we should all do our utmost to prevent any possibility of its recurrence,” she said.

Mbete acknowledged that the Constitution determines that MPs have freedom of speech in the assembly and its committees, subject only to the Constitution and the rules and orders that the House imposes on itself.  

“Any limitations that you as the House have placed on your jealously guarded freedom of speech is therefore the sole purpose of preventing the House from being impeded in, or prevented from, going about the important business it has in the interests of all the people of this country,” she said.

Mbete then announced that following the meeting between Ramaphosa and leaders of the opposition parties, a committee consisting of Ramaphosa and leaders of parties represented in Parliament has been established to lead a political process to address the current engagement in Parliament. 

One of the agreements reached was that the processes in respect of earlier disruptions in the House would be held in abeyance until the committee had completed its work. That also included outstanding rulings, she said.

“I wish to express my appreciation for the steps that are being taken to attend to these important matters. This institution is critical and we need to work together to ensure that it contributes fully to deepening and strengthening our democracy,” she added. 

Mbete has come under criticism from opposition parties, who have called for her resignation while accusing her of bias and heavy-handedness in her rulings against the opposition MPs.