Baleka Mbete. Picture: GCIS / SIYABULELA DUDA
Baleka Mbete. Picture: GCIS / SIYABULELA DUDA

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete has refused the DA's request that the National Assembly be reconvened to deal with the energy crisis, saying existing committees could take up the matter.

The DA also wanted an ad hoc committee to be established to look into the causes of, and solutions to, the crisis. The party has its own proposals on how deal with it.

In a letter sent on Tuesday to DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, Mbete agreed that the prevailing energy crisis was a "very serious matter" for the country but noted that there were existing portfolio committees empowered to deal with Eskom issues, including the public enterprises committee, which conducted an extensive inquiry into Eskom in 2018.

In a statement outlining Mbete's position, parliament said that "the relevant committees could, therefore, take up the matter if needed and there was no need for the National Assembly to be reconvened at this point. Even if an ad hoc committee was required, such would not require the House to reconvene,"

The parliamentary statement noted that although the National Assembly had risen on March 20 and stood dissolved  it remained competent to function in terms of the constitution. According to the rules and procedures of the National Assembly, relevant committees, including ad hoc committees, could convene to discuss matters and potentially report if needed. This did not require the National Assembly to meet first.

Steenhuisen said he would reply to Mbete's letter asking her to get direction from the chairs of the public enterprises, energy, trade and industry and economic development committees as to whether they planned to recall their members and establish a joint ad hoc committee. If not, Steenhuisen would ask Mbete what action she planned to take as head of the National Assembly to ensure that they did.

"The committees should be directed to sit," he said, adding that there was no-one acting as co-ordinator. He did not believe any of the committees had any intention to reconvene as all their members were on the election campaign trail.

Steenhuisen said it was unacceptable that in this time of crisis the "lights are off" at the national legislature. "It is just crazy for Parliament not to be showing leadership at this time of national crisis."

Steenhuisen pointed out that the National Assembly would have to be reconvened to process any proposed legislative amendments — such as those related to independent power producers — which could emerge from the work of an ad hoc committee should one be established.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za