ANC 'shuts down' National Assembly for 75 days

The longer constituency period will "allow Members of Parliament more time to serve and directly engage with the people who elected them into public office" (David Harrison/M&G)

The longer constituency period will "allow Members of Parliament more time to serve and directly engage with the people who elected them into public office" (David Harrison/M&G)

The National Assembly will be in recess for 75 days, after the ANC “pushed through” an amendment of Parliament’s programme to allow for a prolonged “constituency” period.

The decision, welcomed by the ANC and slammed by the DA as an attempt to undermine Parliament’s oversight role, was taken on Wednesday in the Joint Programming Committee.

According to the decision, Parliament will shut down between June 18 and August 13, while the National Council of Provinces will be on constituency period from July 2 to July 30. A constituency period is meant for MPs to interact with members of the public.

The extension comes amid persistent speculation that an early election might be called, despite ANC secretary general Ace Magashule’s insistence on Sunday that this wasn’t discussed at the party’s NEC meeting over the weekend.

According to ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, the longer constituency period will “allow Members of Parliament more time to serve and directly engage with the people who elected them into public office”.

“The ANC welcomes this decision, as it is a step towards the attainment of a 50/50 balance between parliamentary sessions and parliamentary constituency work. This decision takes forward the 2016 ANC Midterm Review Caucus Lekgotla resolution, which stated that Parliament as an institution should revisit its programming in relation to the time MPs spend in Parliament, as opposed to the time they spend in their constituencies,” reads the statement from Mthembu.

“The unintended consequence of this format is that a gap between MPs and their constituencies is created, which does not bode well for accountability.”

According to Mthembu, the extension will allow MPs sufficient time to “meaningfully engage on matters afflicting our people and allow people on the ground an opportunity to hold them directly accountable on matters raised with their elected representatives”.

‘Parliament’s ability to process legislation curtailed’

He said the extended constituency period will also allow the executive enough time to fulfil their functions “without having to plan around the plenary programme of Parliament during this time”.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen rejected the move, accusing the ANC of shutting down Parliament.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘new dawn’ has quickly vanished – he has effectively been granted a holiday from oversight and accountability.
Not even at the height of President Jacob Zuma’s presidency, with all his ‘meandos’, was Zuma able to negotiate a three-month holiday from accountability,” Steenhuisen said in a statement.

“By sanctioning this shut down through voting in favour of the amended Parliamentary Programme, ANC MPs have been exceptionally derelict in executing their constitutional duties and have provided grossly untenable reasons for doing so.”

According to Steenhuisen, the extension completely undermines Parliament’s ability to fulfil its constitutional mandate.

“Parliament’s ability to process legislation is now also drastically curtailed.”

“Moreover, during this 75-day shutdown, there will be absolutely no opportunity for oral or written questions, no opportunity for parties to table motions or members’ statements and there will [be] no opportunity to ask oral or written questions to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President David Mabuza or any Cabinet minister.” — News 24

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