MPs fume at fines for non-attendance

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(File photo) Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - A proposed policy governing MPs’ attendance of parliamentary meetings has been rejected by some members who are unhappy about sanctions that would hit their pockets hard or cause them to lose their seats should they be absent for extended periods.

According to the proposal, if a party fails to have a majority of its members present at a plenary meeting when a decision is to be taken, or if a decision can’t be taken because of a lack of a quorum, the party will have to pay R5 000 into the account of Parliament.

For committee meetings, the penalty would be R1 000.

MPs have also balked at the proposed sanction for absenteeism: That R500 be deducted from a member’s salary for each day they are absent in excess of 15 days.

The draft policy also suggests that MPs absent without leave for 30 consecutive days should lose their seat. However, 60 days is presented as an alternative for discussion.

Parliament does not currently deal with leave for MPs, which is the responsibility of the parties, but it does insist on a minimum standard for the attendance of members at plenary sittings and committee meetings.

Watty Watson, DA chief whip, said the party had been set to present its submission at the last meeting of Parliament’s joint rules committee in July, but this had been postponed.

The DA objected to aspects of the proposed policy, including a R5 000 fine if there is no quorum. “… We can’t accept that. Who’s going to pay that?”

ANC MP Mike Masutha, who presented the policy at the party’s last caucus meeting, said it looked as though Wednesday’s meeting would have to be postponed to give parties time to finalise their submissions.

“The decision of the rules committee was to refer the matter to parties to come up with agreed proposals. There are some suggestions on proposals,” said Masutha.

Without going into detail, Masutha said MPs had not rejected the policy entirely, but there were “different ideas and views”.

Parliament’s discussion document on the proposed policy states that the attendance list and signed minutes of committees would be evidence of attendance of committee meetings.

National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu said earlier this year that if there were no consequences for MPs who failed to attend sittings and committee meetings, it would “send a wrong signal”.

He said absenteeism affected the business of Parliament since decisions were held up by the lack of a quorum.

ANC MP Ben Turok, who co-chairs the joint ethics committee, told the Sowetan several of his colleagues had voiced reservations about the proposed penalty for 15 days’ absenteeism.

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