Convention stands between Zuma and EFF during Sona

Procedure rules, Parliament practices and conventions could stand in the way of the Economic Freedom Fighter’s (EFF) battle plan to disrupt the State of the Nation Address (Sona).

The party has been calling for President Jacob Zuma to answer a question he was asked in August regarding Nkandla, and have threatened to disrupt Parliament until he is held accountable. But, according to Masibulele Xaso, secretary to the National Assembly, while the joint rules of Parliament do not mention anything about MPs putting questions to the President during his special address, doing so at this Sona would go against the “norm”. 

Xaso, who was speaking at a workshop for the media in Parliament on Wednesday, said when an extraordinary meeting was called by the President, in the form of a Sona, there was no provision for questions. “That is a sitting called by the President for him to address the house and therefore there is no provision in terms of convention, practice. 

“I don’t even think the rules would have envisioned a situation where you have questions on that day specifically because there is another opportunity provided to discuss issues after the Sona. For members to interact with the address by the president.” 

One item on the agenda
Secretary of the National Council of Provinces Advocate Modibedi Phindela agreed that there were no rules dealing with questions to the president in the joint rules of Parliament. 

“According to the ordinary rules of debate, when an extra ordinary meeting is called, there is only one item on the agenda and that item should be dealt with on that day. No other items may be dealt with. The joint sitting is an extra ordinary sitting. There has never been an occasion where there were questions or points of order in a joint sitting.” 

While speaking in broad terms, Xaso said the Speaker could invoke procedure rule 13 of the joint rules of Parliament, which state: “An assembly or council member, other than the officer presiding at a joint sitting, may not speak at a sitting unless given permission by the presiding officer either during the meeting or prior. 

On Tuesday, Speaker Baleka Mbete urged the EFF to not use the Sona to demand that Zuma answer questions on Nkandla. This after Malema wrote a letter to her threatening to make sure that Zuma answered his party’s questions at the opening of Parliament on February 12. 

Xaso said while there was no specific rule prohibiting asking questions during the joint sitting, it was not done. “It would only be in this Parliament that practices and conventions are not taken as an authoritative basis for parliamentary procedure. The rules can never provide for every eventuality. It’s impossible. So there will always be rulings that establish precedent.” 

‘What is a convention?’
EFF general secretary Godrich Gardee, while refusing to comment on the issue until Parliament presented any written rule that prevented them from asking questions, said a convention was not reason enough to prevent them from going ahead next month. “I mean what is a convention? They must give you the rules. If they say it’s a convention, they must show that. I can claim anything to be a convention. Why are there laws if we are going to rely on convention?”

Addressing a media briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Malema said his
party would apply rule 116 to stop Zuma from delivering his Sona before he answers the question when will he pay back the money. 

“President Zuma will take to the podium. We will stand up and say point of order chair, we don’t think we are starting on the right note because the last time we ended with the president this is where we were. We must start there,” said Malema

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