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Ramaphosa dodges National Assembly's questions this term


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Ramaphosa dodges National Assembly's questions this term

President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa

26th May 2022

By: News24Wire


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Continuing blackouts, the rising cost of living, the Zondo Report implicating his party, South Africa's tacit support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the rising tide of xenophobia in the country and plans to build a R22-million flag - these are some current topics MPs might want to question President Cyril Ramaphosa on.

However - in contravention of the National Assembly's rules - they will not have the opportunity to do so this term.


Rule 140(1) of the National Assembly states: "Questions to the President must be - (a) scheduled in accordance with Rule 210 for a question day at least once per quarter during session time within the annual programme."

With only two weeks remaining in the current term, and no date allotted to a presidential question session, the National Assembly Programming Committee on Thursday morning decided to instead invite Ramaphosa for an additional question session in the third term. The third term will only start on 15 August.


Democratic Alliance (DA) deputy chief whip Siviwe Gwarube recently wrote to Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to ask her about scheduling the required question session for this term. 

She wrote: "I firmly believe that it is of the utmost importance that members of the NA [National Assembly] are afforded regular opportunities to engage with President Ramaphosa on a range of urgent matters of national and international importance.

"Moreover, it is imperative that President Ramaphosa should set the example as the head of the executive that the government is indeed serious about fulfilling their obligations of being held accountable to the Assembly by ensuring that he attends to his parliamentary duties."

Chief Whips Forum discussed this letter when it met on Wednesday, behind closed doors, as is the norm for this body.

At Thursday's meeting, DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone asked if the question session had been scheduled.

Mapisa-Nqakula referred to Gwarube's letter.

House chairperson Grace Boroto and African National Congress (ANC) MP and parliamentary councillor to Deputy President David Mabuza, Hope Papo, were unimpressed by how the DA raised the matter.

ANC MP and Ramaphosa's parliamentary councillor Gerhard Koornhof said that NAPC and the Chief Whips Forum had agreed to the proposed programme since 24 March.

Programming whip and ANC MP Mina Lesoma presented the programme, which had Mabuza answering questions on 8 June, and the presidency's budget vote, which will be tabled by Ramaphosa, on the 9 June, with Ramaphosa responding to the debate the following day.

"That week, two days, the president will be appearing before the house," Lesoma said.

"We totally agree and prescribe to the rules, particularly National Assembly Rule 140, which does direct that the president must appear in the house."

She said Ramaphosa would answer questions in the next term, but if he said he was available now for a question session this term, it would be accommodated.

"However, we are not going to dictate to the president when he is going to appear before the House after he had indicated to us that his diary doesn't necessarily allow him, given that he will be appearing this month, or this quarter twice, because of the compliance matters in terms of the budget votes that needs to be processed and approved," she said.

Rule 140 required that the president answer questions in the House, not just "appear" in the House, which several opposition MPs were quick to point out.

Gwarube said the fact that Ramaphosa would be delivering his budget vote speech did not negate the requirement that he answers questions in the House.

She said the question sessions had to be built into every single term - it was part of the National Assembly's oversight, and a part of the president's responsibility to Parliament.

Freedom Front Plus chief whip Corné Mulder said the rules were clear that the president must avail himself to answer questions. He suggested that they either extend the current term by a week to allow a question session or obtain assurance that Ramaphosa would appear twice in the next term.

Economic Freedom Fighters chief whip Floyd Shivambu said it was not a matter of "dictating" to the president - as Lesoma put it.

"It is the rules of Parliament!" he said. "It's the rules. We are not dictating to any president."

He recalled how former president Jacob Zuma unsuccessfully tried to dodge question sessions and said Ramaphosa shouldn't be treated differently.

United Democratic Movement MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa agreed with Shivambu. "We were strict on Zuma," he said.  

"We mustn't have a different set of rules for President Ramaphosa."

Koornhof said it was a couple of weeks before the end of the term and repeated that the programme had been approved and agreed to at every meeting since the end of March.

"I don't think the rules make provision for two question sessions in one term," Koornhof said.

In fact, the rules state there must be a question session "at least once per quarter".

Mapisa-Nqakula appealed to the committee to have an additional question session in the next term. The committee agreed.

In a statement released after the meeting, Gwarube said they would be unrelenting on this matter.

"The Zondo Commission report details how Parliament has failed in its responsibility of demanding accountability from the executive on behalf of the people of South Africa. We will never allow the same to happen again," she said.

"The continued stonewalling of the work of Parliament by the ANC will not succeed. We will be intolerant of the Zuma presidency era tactics of keeping the president away from Parliament when there are crises like the rising cost of living facing ordinary South Africans."


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