Democratic Alliance Chief Whip Watty Watson (in focus) launched a stinging attack on his ANC counterpart. File photo: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - Even before Parliament opens on February 14, battle lines have been drawn between the DA and the ANC, with DA chief whip Watty Watson claiming the rules of the National Assembly are being bent to protect President Jacob Zuma from answering questions in the House.

“It appears that Parliament’s rules are being abused to protect the president from being held accountable,” Watson said, after questions to the president were not included in the provisional programme of the National Assembly for this year.

Failure to schedule a session for MPs to pose questions to the president for oral reply would be a breach of rule 111(1)(a) of the Rules of the National Assembly.

But the ANC and Parliament have denied there is anything suspicious in the omission, saying the programme is a draft that has yet to be finalised.

The latest spat comes after an acrimonious end to 2012, when the DA launched an urgent application in the courts to compel the scheduling of a debate on a motion of no confidence in Zuma.

The motion was stymied after the ANC opposed it in Parliament’s programming committee, leading to a deadlock.

The DA’s urgent application was dismissed by the Western Cape High Court, and subsequently the Constitutional Court. But the battle will resume when the Constitutional Court hears another application in March.

This will be on the constitutionality of the rules of Parliament that require the programming committee to reach consensus before a debate can be scheduled.

Watson, pictured, fired the first salvo of the year in his statement.

“MPs are tasked with holding the president accountable in Parliament on a regular basis,” he said.

“The executive is facing a number of serious challenges this year, ranging from unemployment to the mining crisis.

“The president simply cannot be allowed to avoid answering questions on these and other matters during the current term.”

ANC parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mothapo said Watson’s accusation was “unnecessary posturing that once again exhibits his legendary ignorance of parliamentary processes and procedures”.

He said the draft programme was an internal document that the National Assembly table officers had drafted for discussion, amendment and approval by the multiparty programming committee.

This was a process Parliament had followed for many years, he said.

Spokeswoman for Parliament Estelle Randall echoed Mothapo’s statement, saying it was “regrettable” that a draft programme and internal working document, issued for consideration by the programming committee, had been “misconstrued” as the final programme.

Political Bureau