Phala Phala debate can’t go ahead if Ramaphosa goes to court, whips hear

05 December 2022 - 14:14 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA
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A special chief whips' forum has been advised that if President Ramaphosa goes to court to challenge the Phala Phala report, the matter will be sub judice and may not be discussed by the house. File photo.
A special chief whips' forum has been advised that if President Ramaphosa goes to court to challenge the Phala Phala report, the matter will be sub judice and may not be discussed by the house. File photo.
Image: Anton Scholtz

Parliament’s legal advisers have warned that Tuesday’s debate on the section 89 panel report into the Phala Phala saga may have to be postponed if President Cyril Ramaphosa takes the report on review.

A special chief whips' forum sat on Monday morning and was advised that if Ramaphosa goes to court to challenge the report, the matter will be sub judice and may not be discussed or adopted by the house.

Sources said the special meeting was convened to discuss preparations for Tuesday’s sitting. A chief whips' forum is closed to the public and usually sits on Wednesdays when parliament is in session.

A source who attended Monday’s meeting said: “In the main, the meeting discussed the issue of voting and the high probability it will be deemed sub judice if he does take it on review.”

The meeting also discussed National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s decision to decline the DA’s request for a roll call voting system, citing connectivity challenges.

Opposition whips were not convinced and requested an urgent meeting of the National Assembly programming committee, where Mapisa-Nqakula will formally and publicly explain her reasons for declining the proposal made last week by DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube.

“She will also have an opportunity to explain if the president is taking the report on review and how that would impact on the planned session,” said the source.

A vote by roll call entails the names of MPs being called individually and their votes recorded.

“While this is certainly preferable, the procedure poses significant risks and challenges, especially with regard to votes from the virtual platform,” Mapisa-Nqakula said in a written response to Gwarube.

“By its nature the procedure does drag on for a long time. The last time this voting procedure was used, the voting itself took approximately 90 minutes to complete.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said the inherent risk in this is that once the doors are locked, members whose online connection may have dropped before their names are called up to vote cannot be readmitted, and consequently may not be able to register their vote.

“Another is that some members may not be able to use their video feed due to bandwidth/connectivity challenges, and this was considered to put the integrity of their vote in question.”

These challenges were evident when the system was last used on March 30, and the concerns also created disorder in the house at the time, she said.

“While I concur with the principles you articulate in your correspondence, in light of current circumstances and the practical difficulties raised above, I am of the view a vote by roll call may give rise to avoidable procedural complications.

“Given the prominence of the item in question, procedural challenges must be avoided if possible. I believe your request does raise the urgency of finalising the development of the electronic voting system.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said while the voting system — which has been used for more than two years since the Covid-19 pandemic — was by no means ideal, it was efficient.

“Most importantly, and in keeping with their constitutional prerogative, any member of the house is given the opportunity to voice a vote different from that registered by their party position, should they so wish. This is always the case when the current voting procedure is in use.”

Gwarube had argued the current system of voting used to streamline the business of plenaries, whereby political parties’ votes are recorded by their respective whips, erodes public representatives’ right to cast an individual vote, arguably to the detriment of the ideals of representative and participatory democracy.

“Given the huge public interest in the report, and the precedent-setting nature of the work of the panel, it is imperative that when we consider this report on December 6 we are allowed to cast our votes manually according to a roll call vote to allow each of the 400 public representatives to voice his or her vote,” she said.

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