Parliament. Picture: Reuters/Rogan Ward
Parliament - Parliament on Thursday said cost- cutting measures would again be a factor as it announced changes to the ceremonies that characterise the State of the Nation Address (Sona).

Briefing the media in Parliament, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli said the occasion would still preserve the decorum and solemnity of the event.

“In making these modifications, the prevailing economic hardships that continue to face most South Africans and the expected weather conditions have been taken into account,” Tsenoli said.

He said the curtailing of certain aspects of public participation was not done to undermine the duty of ensuring the public involvement in Parliament’s business.

The junior guard and civil guard would not form part of the state procession. The eminent persons will also not be part of the ceremony, including the nine winners of a radio competition from each of the provinces.

He said the imbongi (praise singer), would not be part of the ceremony.

“The imbongi, who usually ushers presidents into the chamber ahead of the address and is selected in concurrence with the presidency, has also been withdrawn, following discussion with the president.

“The ceremony will project the constitutional make-up of our state, the three arms of the state, with a procession consisting of the judiciary, the legislature in the executive,” Tsenoli said.

He said Parliament had budgeted R2m for the scheduled Sona.

National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise said the budgeted amount did not mean that they would spend all of it.

“I hope it goes below R2m,” she said.

Tsenoli said indications were that they would spend significantly less than the budgeted amount.

“For the February Sona ceremony we budgeted just over R2m, but closed with a total spending of R1.6m. Parliament has been tightening Sona budgets in the last few years, which has, despite the price inflation, come down from R9.2m five years ago to R2m for this Sona ceremony,” he said.

Tsenoli said there would be no post-Sona dinner for MPs and guests.

“They will have it at their own expense.”

The presiding officers said they were not expecting any disruptions and that there were would be no extraordinary security measures put in place next Thursday.

“We haven’t been given any indication that there’s going to be a disruption,” Modise said.

She made the comments a day after she undertook to investigate “unbecoming and uncharacteristic” conduct by ANC and EFF parliamentarians during the induction programme on Wednesday.

The Sona has in the past, under former president Jacob Zuma, been marred by disruptions and the ejection of EFF MPs by the so-called “white shirts” when the EFF demanded Zuma “pay back the money” for the upgrade at his homestead in Nkandla.

Modise said they would stick to the rules, as they normally did when hosting the Sona event.

“We’ll ensure that there is decorum. If anything happens, we’ll follow our rules and strictly go to the session relying on the rules of the joint sitting,” she said.

Modise said they hoped they would not have to make use of the protection services popularly known as the “white shirts” to evict disruptive MPs.

“We want to rely on the rules of procedure and debate. We don’t have extraordinary security measures and we don’t intend to have,” she added.

Tsenoli said they hoped the intervention by Modise when there was a fracas during the induction programme had had the desired effect.

“We hope that responsiveness to the Speaker intervention will last until and during Sona itself.

“We hope members will appreciate that the public have been on our case to preserve the decorum of the House,” Tsenoli said.

Political Bureau