Parliament looking to spend as little as possible on scaled-down Sona

The budget is R2.2m but National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise says government 'doesn't want to spend a cent of that money'

27 January 2021 - 16:30 By aphiwe deklerk
National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise is determined to cut costs. File photo.
National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise is determined to cut costs. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times

National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise has promised that parliament will spend the bare minimum on this year's state of the nation address (Sona).

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Modise said despite the R2.2m budget set aside for the event, parliament will not be spending much of it because of the nature of the sitting.

Sona will be held on February 11 and due to the lockdown restrictions parliament will do away with the pomp and ceremony that usually accompanies the event.

According to a parliamentary statement read out at Wednesday's briefing, the joint sitting will take a hybrid format, with only 50 MPs and guests physically attending.

“We don't want to spend R2m. We don't want to spend a cent of that money at all because we have other needs, but we are saying that this was the budget.

“We think the most that we will spend will be the cost of the webinar because we are not going to be serving anything other than water in the chamber,” said Modise.

Modise said the decision to use the hybrid format was as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in strict rules on gatherings.

“We are part of the general society. Our people are going through these challenges of Covid-19; we cannot be insulated from what they are going through. Even though we have enough space within the National Assembly chamber to have more than 100 people, we keep to the regulations of Covid-19.

This was why there would be fewer than 50 in the chamber.

“We cannot have rules that affect society and that do not affect ourselves. It is us being part of our society, us being sensitive towards everybody else but also seeing the need not to forgo Sona, which it is important,” said Modise.

She said the event was important because it marked the beginning of the financial year and to outline what the head of state had in mind for the country in the year ahead.

National Council of Provinces chairperson Amos Masondo said it was a difficult decision to decide on hosting the sitting in a hybrid format.

“Given the context of Covid-19 and the fact that this has had a devastating effect on our society, economically, socially and otherwise, it wasn't easy to arrive at the decision. But having considered the issues, we settled for the option of a hybrid sitting,” said Masondo.

Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the institution was badly hit by Covid-19, with at least 56 recorded infections among staff members.

We are, however, greatly encouraged by the recovery rate of both MPs and staff. Sadly, we have lost 12 MPs and five officials since the outbreak of the virus. We once again extend our heartfelt condolences to their families and of those of thousands that have passed on since the outbreak of the pandemic,” said Mothapo.  

He said parliament will adhere to the national state of disaster regulations and will not allow more than 50 MPs, representatives from the judiciary and the executive in the physical chamber.