ANC wants Modise to take on unprecedented role - but opposition parties have concerns

27 June 2019 - 16:42 By THABO MOKONE
Thandi Modise.
Thandi Modise.
Image: Tsheko Kabasia

In an unprecedented step, one of parliament's most powerful presiding officers has been nominated to serve on the Judicial Service Commission, a body that appoints judges and disciplines those behaving badly.

Newly elected National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise was nominated by ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina as one of the party's three preferred candidates to serve on the JSC, along with three MPs from opposition parties.

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EFF leader Julius Malema, DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach and the IFP's Narend Singh will represent the opposition parties.

In terms of section 178 of the constitution, the National Assembly has to be represented on the JSC by six MPs, with three of them drawn from the ANC.

Majodina also announced Modise as the ANC's preference to represent it on other important legislative bodies, such as the Pan-African Parliament and the SADC parliamentary forum, despite her busy schedule as speaker of the National Assembly.

EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu said that while they did not oppose her nomination to sit on the JSC, it would be impractical for Modise to do justice to all these deployments on top of her full-time job as speaker.

"Honourable speaker, you will realise when you have to sit in the PAP [Pan-African Parliament], in the SADC PF [parliamentary forum] and the JSC, that it's not practical in terms of schedule. You won’t be able to sit in three deployments and still be the speaker of the NA [National Assembly].

"Whatever happens, you're going to compromise either of the four major responsibilities. I think that the ANC caucus must relook into it," Shivambu said during a vote on the matter.

ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said, however, that they were well aware what it meant to have Modise deployed to all four of these critical structures.

"We will attend to it, as the ANC," said Dlakude.

For his part, DA chief whip John Steenhuisen made light of the moment, opting to mock the EFF.

"Madam speaker, in terms of (house) rule 85, I think it's a reflection on your ability to be a multi-tasker but also for the sake of consistency. This is the thing about the EFF, they came here just now and said you won the election, you must put up whatever you want and now they've got a different view.

"It's Pravin one day, no Pravin the next day. It's Busisiwe Mkhwebane the one day, no Mkhwebane the one day. Speaker one day, no speaker one day," said Steenhuisen.

Modise then told MPs that she had personally raised the matter with the party leadership.

"Honourable members, can I close this matter. Indeed this matter, almost raised in the same way honourable Shivambu [did], has been raised by yours truly and it's under discussion. So the ANC will come back on this matter," said Modise.

Legal expert Paul Hoffman said while it was unprecedented for a speaker to serve on the JSC, there was nothing in law precluding her from doing so as the composition of the JSC accommodated politicians in terms of the constitution.

Hoffman said he, too, was concerned about how it could compromise Modise's responsibilities as a speaker.

"Practically speaking, you would think that the speaker's job is so big that she would not have time to sit on the JSC, because you're meant to read huge files of paper about the pedigree of each candidate and I don't know where she'd get time for that," said Hoffman.

"I would think that there are probably more reasons against it than there are for it. The reasons for it are that as an MP she's eligible and as a person who occupies an office which requires independence of thought and impartiality in decision making, she's correct. But the reasons against it are that the speaker's job is so big that it should require fulltime attention from the incumbent in order to have the job done properly.

"And the role of a parliamentary nominee from a political perspective is to represent the interest of that political party on the JSC. It means that she will be wearing a different hat when she sits in the JSC and she already has a very big hat as speaker.

"It's unprecedented, I've never heard of a speaker being on the JSC," he added.