With President Jacob Zuma due to appear before Parliament in a couple of weeks, the issue of disruptions in the National Assembly was again in the spotlight on Tuesday as the rules subcommittee worked to finalise regulations to deal with unruly members.
Working towards an interim solution to deal with members who refuse to leave the chamber when instructed to by a presiding officer, members of the committee spent the afternoon debating the description of minimum force.
They dealt with interfering members and the role of the Parliamentary Protection services, among other things.
While the technicalities of the wording of the new rules took centre stage, all members agreed that Parliament should never be adjourned due to unruly members unless absolutely necessary because it prevents those who want to work from carrying out their duties. Proceedings could be suspended until the disruptions were dealt with, the committee agreed.
And while the removal of unruly MPs from the chamber to create order in the House is legal, suspension of members’ salaries due to bad behaviour in the National Assembly still needed careful consideration.
Disruption during questions
ANC MP Nyami Booi said one of the things that needed to be clarified was the process of authority and the rights of members to do their work needed to be considered.
“Our rights of being able to articulate the things we have prepared for the House on that particular day are being abandoned,” Booi said. “So we need to have people that will be able to assist or have the protection guard inside the House so that the House will remain seated so that everything that confronts us can be sorted. Members come in on that particular day because they have questions, and when those questions get disrupted there is no way the speaker would be able to tell us when the president would be able to come back to resolve them.
“So those who want to continue to disrupt the house, leave the House victorious because they are the ones who win on that day. So members should remain so that those who are disruptive are dealt with until they finish and we continue with the House if possible.”
Last month, Zuma’s question and answer session in Parliament was disrupted when Economic Freedom Fighters MPs insisted he answer as to when he would be paying back a portion of the money spent on his Nkandla homestead. After the proceedings were adjourned without the president answering any questions, parties including the ANC, the Democratic Alliance and the United Democratic Movement felt that urgent intervention was needed to continue with the business of Parliament.
On Tuesday, the role of the Sergeant at Arms in ensuring the removal of unruly MPs was questioned, as well as the removal of members who interfered with the work of the Parliament protection services. The MPs agreed that interfering had to be clearly defined as they wanted to avoid a situation where everyone who stood up to plead with unruly members was also removed with them.
ANC MP Julie Killian said for every one member causing havoc, there were 399 who wanted to do their job and unruly MPs had to accept the consequences of their actions, including suspension of their duties.
“You have a choice. You either abide and respect the rulings and leave and nothing will happen. But if it is your choice to resist, then you must understand that there will be consequences,” Killian said. “Until such time that we have clarity, I see no problem with an automatic suspension of five days. It doesn’t mean a deduction of your salary, but it means that you cannot reach your Parliamentary office because you cannot come into the precinct. Then clearly members will reconsider their conduct. This is part of making sure that members get real about what their Parliamentary responsibilities are.”
DA MP Natasha Mazzone said as soon as the safety of Parliament was threatened, the house had to be adjourned to avoid a repeat of what happened during Zuma’s State of the Nation Address, where tables were broken and water bottles thrown around. The Parliamentary legal services told the committee, in answer to a question asked during a meeting in June, that protection had a right to remove members from the chamber if instructed to do so by presiding officers.
“There is legislative authority for that. There is no arrest being affected on the member, we are removing them to create order in the house,” the committee was told.