Parliament has shot down a request by the EFF calling for the urgent sitting to hold the cabinet accountable over Covid-19 lockdown be held in Pretoria at a venue where social distancing could be observed. On Saturday, the national legislature said plans were at an advanced stage for a session where less than 50 MPs would attend physically at the National Assembly Chambers in Cape Town and others join the sitting via a video platform. Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the majority of the political parties have already agreed that cabinet ministers answer oral questions on May 27.
“Some MPs will be physically present in the National Assembly Chamber, with required Chamber officials, and other MPs joining the sitting through a video platform,” Mothapo said. Mothapo also said only limited people would be allowed inside the chamber in order to allow social distancing during the proceedings.
Mothapo also said there were plans of sanitising the precinct in accordance with Occupational Health and Safety guidelines. Parliament is ready for the return of both members and staff as deep cleaning and sanitation of the precinct has taken place and is an ongoing process.
“Sanitizers across the precinct are in place and everyone entering the premises is screened,” he said. However, there has been concerns over the security of virtual meetings. The National Assembly’s programme committee meeting was disrupted after one “attendee” posted pornographic images and racially abused National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise. Mothapo said that the National Assembly was finalising the modalities of the planned sitting. Parliament has in place the necessary technology infrastructure to ensure that public representatives are able to remotely connect to the sittings of the House and participate like those who would be present physically,” he said.
Earlier this week the EFF called for a parliamentary session to be held in Pretoria because “a significant majority of MPs will be able to gain convenient access to Pretoria without the difficulties of using air travel,” the party said, adding that Tshwane should be the proposed venue because it is “spacious”.
The political parties represented in Parliament have been calling for the sitting as they wanted to question President Cyril Ramaphosa and ministers about decisions and mistakes that occurred while they were dealing with Covid-19 crisis.
Freedom From Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said he was happy that the parliament would finally sit. He said he understood that his party would be represented by “one or two” MPs in the house. The parliament work must continue. The problem at the moment is that there is no oversight of what the executive is doing.
“So parliament must convene and we must continue with our work,” said Groenewald. IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa had cautioned that the chamber was not conducive for social distancing. This needs to be carefully structured and well planned for safety. The realities of Covid-19 are very much alive in parliament,” said Hlengwa. DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone said she had advised Modise on measures to be taken to ensure the safety of the MPs and staff.
“I seconded to the speaker an example of how parliament could sit with a hybrid system, which would include people being in the house and other people being in virtual all at the same time because it works very well in other countries.
EFF spokesperson Delisile Ngwenya said her party was satisfied if the social distancing and cleaning issues had been sorted. Does this mean that it is safe to go back to parliament in this current situation where Cape Town on its own is the epicentre (of coronavirus)? How do they guarantee (the safety). I know that there is a staff member who has already passed away,” she said.
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