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Johannesburg - Sections of the Constitution were scrutinised on Tuesday in argument on whether a Member of Parliament could introduce a bill in the National Assembly (NA) without permission.
Constitutional Court judges asked that the meaning of the words “initiate, prepare” and “introduce”, as set out in the Constitution, be understood before argument on the matter could be heard.
This was still being deliberated on, more than an hour after court proceedings began.
David Unterhalter SC, for Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, contended that initiation and preparation were steps before the introduction of a bill.
“To introduce” was understood as tabling a bill before the NA.
Oriani-Ambrosini has brought an application for leave to appeal a judgment by the Western Cape High Court on the validity of certain NA rules.
He argues that some rules permit the majority party in the NA to prevent members of minority parties from exercising their constitutional right to introduce bills in the NA.
He contends this violates his political and democratic rights under section 73(2) of the Constitution, and asks the Constitutional Court to declare the rules in question constitutionally invalid.
The section states that any bill may be introduced in the NA, but only by a Cabinet member, a deputy minister, or a member or committee of the NA.
Oriani-Ambrosini wrote to the Speaker of the Assembly, Max Sisulu, asking that a bill, which sought to amend the National Credit Act, be introduced.
In response, Sisulu informed Oriani-Ambrosini the bill would have to be processed in terms of the NA's rules.
Those rules required that a private member's bill first be submitted to the committee on private members' legislative proposals and special petitions.
The committee would then make a recommendation to the assembly on whether permission could be granted to proceed with the proposed legislation. Before the legislative proposal could be proceeded it had to, in terms of the rules, receive approval from a majority of NA members.
In the heads of argument, Sisulu said a member of the NA had to obtain permission before he could lawfully introduce his bill.
“Mr (Oriani-)Ambrosini claims... parts of the NA rules are inconsistent with the Constitution and therefore null and void,” Sisulu said.
“He does not attack or contest the original constitutional powers vested upon the NA as a collective and composite constitutional law-making body.”
Sisulu said Ambrosini did not contest similar powers vested in the national executive of “preparing and initiating legislation”.
The powers of the NA were exclusive.
“An individual member of the NA cannot compete with the NA, or assume that power. The Constitution does not confer upon him or her similar powers, or authorise him or her to take over that power,” Sisulu said. - Sapa