National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise says the temporary relocation of Parliament to Gauteng due to Covid-19 pandemic was not on the cards, yet. Modise said she would not request the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure to designate a venue to host the national legislature in Gauteng as suggested by the EFF. The Powers and Privileges Act gives us the authority to designate any place and venue as a precinct. If we consider it important and if we consider it as the last resort, we will do so,” she said on Thursday.
Modise made the statement at the programme committee meeting when responding to a proposal by the EFF that in the interim Parliament be relocated to Pretoria. We have as a matter of record not received the letter from the EFF asking us to relocate temporarily to Gauteng ” she said. Her response took place as they prepare for an oral question session for cabinet ministers planned for next Wednesday.
EFF MP Ntombovuyo Mente said rules and regulations permitted Modise and the executive to move the national legislature on an interim basis. Mente said there were few MPs that were in Cape Town, which has a high infection and death rate from Covid-19 and three of their representatives remaining in the city have underlying issues. Cape Town is an epicentre. If you come to Cape Town you become part of Cape Town where infection rate is very high and the death rate is escalating,” she said.
Mente also said Pretoria was preferable as an interim seat of Parliament while it was figured out what would happen to Cape Town infections and deaths. She said Pretoria would allow for MPs from six provinces to drive in and out Gauteng to attend the parliamentary session. Mente however noted travelling and accommodation could pose a problem for MPs to move back to Cape Town next week.
“We can’t force members especially those with underlying issues when we know what is at stake,” she said. Her colleague, EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu pointed out that Cape Town was merely a legislative capital city and insisted that Gauteng was a central place. Can we put it as part of consideration and options and get authorities and Public Works to explore if we were to gather in Gauteng,” Shivambu said.
In a veiled criticism of the EFF, DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone noted fundamental misunderstanding and manipulation of the constitution being at play. It is nothing more than poorly disguised political play going on for some time and it is used during Covid-19 crisis,” Mazzone said.
ACDP MP Steve Swart said proposed interim relocation has massive implications that related to finance costs and staffing. We need to get Parliament to operate fully as soon as possible,” Swart said, adding that the EFF proposal was untenable.
Modise said if they designated a central area as interim seat of Parliament, they would come back and indicate as such. She however noted that the EFF has pushed for the current seat of Parliament to be relocated and that would be done when the matter was looked into. We should not be fudging issues,” Modise said when dismissing the request, adding that they should look at what was practical.
In direct response to Shivambu, Modise said: “I am not going to ask Public Works where to designate … It was not a business of Public Works. Also discussed at the meeting was the number of MPs that should attend at the Chambers as a discussion on the suggested numbers between 40, 50 and 100.
Freedom Front Plus MP Corne Mulder said it was unlikely that 100 would make it because of the travel restrictions. Mulder said parties should rather notify the administration about their MPs who will attend the sitting physically. He said 50 should be the total to attend the Chamber and that the number could then be increased for future meetings.
ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said the number of MPs attending physically should not be more than 50. She said parties should submit names of their members who would ask follow up questions and language to be required for interpretation.
Mente had when arguing for relocation of parliament said they should not stick to 50 as stated in the regulations as other sectors operated with more than that number. Mazzone said individual MPs should decide if they would attend physically and should not be forced.
She said parties should indicate MPs who will attend physically or virtually. Modise said she would not force any parliamentarian to attend the sitting and then be held accountable. Members who are to attend the sitting let them indicate to political parties so that administration can make necessary preparations,” she said.
Modise also warned against reading the regulations for self-serving purposes. She stated that rules did not allow inter-province travel and that they have written to the National Command Council asking if MPs were exempted. They have not come back to us. We are seeking legal advice on this one,” she said. It will not serve us enough to be above the public and risk breaking the rules because we are simply MPs,” Modise said.
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