Thandi Modise. Picture: SOWETAN
Thandi Modise. Picture: SOWETAN

Parliament will suspend all activities indefinitely  from late on Thursday and will resume activities only once it is deemed safe to do so in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

The institution’s three-week recess was to start on Monday 23 until April 13, but there is now no indication when it will reconvene.

In terms of the previous parliamentary programme, National Assembly and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) committees were scheduled to be briefed by departments on their strategic plans between April 14-24, and for budget vote debates to take place between May 5 and June 11.

In terms of a decision taken Tuesday parliament will be closed to the public until further notice and arrangements are being made to reduce the number of staff members in the precinct.

A special meeting was held between the presiding officers (National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise and NCOP chair Amos Masondo), chief whips of political parties and party representatives to discuss the parliamentary programme, following President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement of a national state of disaster as a result of Covid-19 outbreak.

The meeting agreed that a sitting of the National Assembly will be held on Wednesday to consider a few matters which have specific time-frames and need to be considered. These include the Division of Revenue Bill which apportions national revenue between the three spheres of government; the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill; the draft notice and schedule determining the rate at which salaries are payable to magistrates annually; and the draft notice and schedule determining the rate at which salaries are payable to Constitutional Court judges and judges of other courts annually.

At the conclusion of this sitting the business of the National Assembly, including sittings of the house, committee meetings and public hearings, will be suspended until further notice. The last sitting of the NCOP will be on Thursday until further notice.

Parliament has also put in place various preventive measures against the coronavirus, including sanitisers, screening checks for members, staff and visitors, as well as a medical support staff.

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen was not happy with the decision taken to hold sittings this week. “Parliament needs to close down, except for essential services. It is therefore disappointing that the ANC has pushed for parliament to go ahead with a National Assembly sitting tomorrow (Wednesday). As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to set an example during this unprecedented time,” he said at a media briefing to outline the DA's proposed measures to deal with the pandemic.

Meanwhile Freedom Front Plus chief whip Corné Mulder welcomed the decisions, saying the sitting of the National Assembly on Wednesday would allow it to finalise constitutionally mandated legislation and the Division of Revenue Bill—  which will respectively allow it to meet the deadlines set by the Constitutional Court and provide funding for the functioning of provincial and local government.