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Parliament delays vote on panel’s report by a week in late-night special programming meeting

Parliament delays vote on panel’s report by a week in late-night special programming meeting
Speaker of the National Assembly ,Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula adresses the media at Parliament. (Photo Brenton Geach)

MPs will only vote next week on the Section 89 independent panel recommendation that President Cyril Ramaphosa has a case to answer for possible impeachment over serious violations of the Constitution, according to a unanimous decision of the programming committee on Monday night.

It was a late-night special sitting of that committee that endorsed the one-week delay after days of political and constitutional drama — and just hours after President Cyril Ramaphosa filed his court papers challenging the Section 89 recommendation and the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) made a decision to vote it down in the House.

Moving the parliamentary debate and vote to 13 December seemed the trade-off for the opposition’s calls for a physical meeting with a manual roll call vote where every MP’s decision is recorded.

The call for a roll call process came from the DA in a move to hold individual MPs accountable. The call for a physical sitting came from the EFF for similar reasons.

While Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Monday night indicated she had been disinclined to approve both calls, the special National Assembly programming committee took a different turn.

Parliament, as a multiparty institution of elected public representatives, was autonomous and needed to conduct its business properly, opposition MPs emphasised.

The proposal that was ultimately unanimously accepted came from ANC Deputy Chief whip Doris Dlakude, after EFF Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu’s earlier suggestion of moving the vote to either Thursday or next Tuesday.

‘Doing what is right’

DA Chief Whip Siviwe Gwarube had argued that even in a hybrid system, MPs needed to be able to record their votes.

“The argument that it takes long is neither here nor there. The gravity of the situation should not deter Parliament from doing what is right,” said Gwarube.

The last time this happened, in March 2022 in a no-confidence motion, the ANC had hosted many of its MPs at the Cape Sun. Predictably, the motion was defeated, even if the ANC “frogmarching” its parliamentarians into one venue to ensure voting discipline emerged again in Monday night’s discussions.

But much of the one-week delay was all about flight arrangements, and other logistical arrangements for a physical meeting at a venue yet to be determined. And the vote will be a manual roll call where every MP must publicly declare yea or nay on whether to agree with adopting the Section 89 report.

Postponing the inevitable

In some ways, it’s postponing the inevitable given the NEC decision earlier on Monday to “vote against the adoption of the report of the Section 89 panel, given the fact that it is being taken on review”, according to the official statement.

The ANC holds the majority of seats — 230 of the National Assembly’s 400 — and unless at least 31 ANC MPs publicly buck the party line, the Section 89 report recommending a presidential impeachment will be nixed.

Crucially, the ANC may well get the support of some smaller parties like Good and the African Independent Congress (AIC), each with two MPs, or the single Al Jama-ah MP. That would mean 37-plus ANC MPs must vote with the opposition to proceed with a presidential impeachment.  

Previously, ANC MPs may have talked up their opposition, but when it came down to it, toed the party line, or made sure they were not present.

Voting down the Section 89 independent panel recommendation for Parliament to consider presidential impeachment proceedings would be a neat end to the matter, at least in Parliament, if not necessarily politically. 

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Once the House rejects the report and recommendation, the parliamentary matter ends right there. However, the internal ANC battles at its national elective conference from 16 December would still have to play out. And opposition parties would make hay from the governing party again protecting a president from scrutiny and consequences for at least questionable actions all the way to the 2024 elections.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa’s court papers make it clear he does not believe he’s been given a full hearing. In a direct approach to the Constitutional Court, Ramaphosa has asked for the report to be reviewed and set aside. 

“It is submitted that the panel had a duty to fulfil its constitutional obligations by conducting its inquiry lawfully and constitutionally. Its failure in this regard is the failure of constitutional obligations,” he says in his founding affidavit.

During Monday night’s programming committee this presidential challenge was also raised. 

Parliament’s Chief Legal Adviser, advocate Zuraya Adhikarie, told MPs that while the same matter was before courts and Parliament, next week’s meeting can still happen. The sub judice rule is not a complete bar, according to previous court judgments.

This effectively put an end to the possibility of kicking for touch, over legalities, the vote on the Section 89 independent assessment panel recommendation for Parliament to consider a presidential impeachment.

Shivambu described as “nonsensical” Ramaphosa’s legal action, which also cites the Speaker. 

Right now, Parliament had not yet decided what to do in response to those presidential court papers, according to Mapisa-Nqakula. 

“We are studying the papers, and then [will] get other legal opinion. Politically I do have an appreciation that this was a process initiated by Parliament and whatever we do we have to take that into consideration.” 

And Mapisa-Nqakula maintained Parliament was autonomous and would have to decide the next steps for itself. 

The programming committee adjourned at 10.09pm, with one ANC MP overheard saying: “Bring it on next week.” DM

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