MPs in a tiff over constitutional amendments
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Cape Town - National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise had her hands full this week when she did her best to calm down tensions among the members of the parliamentary whippery.
The occasion was the meeting of the programming committee to receive updates on the House’s programme, recess and constituency periods.
It proved to be a test of her patience, calmness and restraint as she guided the meeting not to degenerate into unnecessary verbal brawl.
This happened when an ordinary meeting suddenly turned into an eventful meeting during a showdown between EFF MPs and other political parties.
The drama started after a presentation was made on the committee section.
Chair of chairs Cedric Frolick raised an issue about an incident that took place last Friday during a meeting of the ad hoc committee on Section 25 committee over a legal opinion.
“There were unfortunate comments that were made by an honourable member that the parliamentary legal services had somehow been infiltrated by certain forces. We can't take these comments lightly, Honourable Speaker, because it will have far reaching consequences if it becomes a trend,” Frolick said.
He also said when MPs were unhappy with a legal opinion, members were within his right to say that they did not agree with it.
“To say the Iegal services have been infiltrated is taking it too far and it must be substantiated,” Frolick said without naming the person involved.
EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu confirmed it was him that said the legal services unit was infiltrated and said he stood by his statements.
Shivambu did not mince his words as he tore into the legal services for allegedly dissuading them from carrying their mandate on amending the constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation.
“We will write to the Speaker to illustrate just how the legal office has been involved in misconduct of infiltration and misguiding the committee. We are to lodge a complaint and substantiate it,” he said.
“We are not apologetic and we will never apologise because it is a correct observation,” Shivambu said.
Other parties were unanimous in describing the matter as very serious with the IFP even suggesting a commission of inquiry.
The Freedom Front Plus wanted necessary action taken against Shivambu and the DA also wanted an investigation.
NFP’s Munzoor Shaik Emam put the blame squarely on the problem of MPs enjoying a certain level of indemnity.
“We need to deal with this matter at some stage,” Shaik Emam said.
DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone said the problem was that there was no comeback and accountability to members who cast aspersions, among other things.
“The ethics and privileges committee don’t meet often enough. We can lodge complaints and file unhappiness with your office. We all know nothing will happen to the MPs,” she said as she did not name names.
EFF’s Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi came to the defence of Shivambu when she charged that he has not killed anyone and has the right to opinion.
"It must be clear that we are not to agree to that narrative as if he killed anyone. He is a member of that committee and is entitled to his opinion,” Mkhaliphi said.
It was at this point that Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli said the MPs ought to use appropriate language in committees and called on Shivambu to make a substantiated motion.
ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude also stepped in to express shock at the allegations made against the legal services and stated that Shivambu should have long written to Modise.
Instead of backing down, Shivambu maintained his right to question people who don’t give legal opinions that have integrity.
In fact, he did not see the need to complain as “the committee has rejected with contempt what was proposed”.
When he was done speaking, Modise cautioned Shivambu to watch his language.
“It is not on to say inputs of other members are nonsensical when they express their opinions,” she said.
Modise noted that they have taken a lot of time of the meeting dealing with a matter.
“We should be saying we expect Ntathe Floyd’s letter to be with us. The letter has to substantiate the infiltration rather than wrongness of the legal opinion.”
Singh then asked if the committee would complete its work adequately by the May 31 deadline.
Frolick said the committee was on track to report to the House and Shivambu’s letter about legal services has no bearing on the work of the committee.
But DA deputy chief whip Jacques Julius asked: “Can Honourable Shivambu be given a deadline when to submit?”
In response Modise said “that we will attend to” and later said a briefing would be made at the next meeting.
EFF’s Natasha Ntlangwini did not take kindly to this saying they would not be told by imaginary advocates when the letter should be sent.
Before the DA thought of even responding, a quick thinking Modise addressed all those in attendance.
Modise warned MPs to use proper language when addressing one another.
“The language we use, members, must not define our disagreements. We must disagree on substance,” she said.
“Can we just desist in name calling and denigrading one another? It does not help the image of Parliament at all,” Modise said before wrapping up the meeting.