National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise has said that parliament’s chief whips’ forum is trying to usurp her powers in deciding the voting method for next Tuesday’s decision whether to hold an inquiry into public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office.

The chief whips of political parties decided on Wednesday that the standard voting method adopted for hybrid sessions, in which MPs vote through their party whips, will be used and that those MPs who want to vote differently to the party would indicate so publicly.

The independent panel appointed to assess the merits of a motion to have Mkhwebane removed from office recommended that parliament institute an inquiry and investigate her fitness to hold office.

The panel, led by retired Constitutional Court judge Bess Nkabinde and which includes advocates Dumisa Ntsebeza and Johan de Waal, said it had found substantial information that constitutes prima facie evidence of incompetence and misconduct against Mkhwebane.

According to the rules regulating the removal of heads of Chapter 9 institutions, after receiving the report of an independent panel the house has to decide whether to hold an inquiry.

Secretary to the National Assembly, Masibulele Xaso, told a meeting of the assembly’s programme committee that the decision was an affirmation of the current approach to voting, whereby party whips indicate the voting positions of their members. The presiding officer then asks if there is any member that wants to vote differently from what has been announced by the chief whip or by the whip of the party, he said.

“I don’t think that process actually lies with you, but that’s fine with me. Sometimes I think when things are legal, we need to keep within the legalities,” said an angry Modise.

“You take away the responsibilities of the presiding officer, so from that moment onward, as far as I’m concerned, you are running the show as the chief whips’ forum. We might as well let you run this whole thing. I’m not throwing out [my] toys but, honestly, sometimes that overstepping of the mark does create problems for us.”

ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina shot back with: “Speaker, I think you are blowing this out of proportion.

Majodina said they were not trying to take over what the presiding officers are doing. “We are saying let’s be consistent, and if there is a new method, should there be a need for voting, then the presiding officers will do that. [We just wanted] to co-ordinate and agree on something, not to take over. I think I must defend the chief whips’ forum.”

“We know the separation of powers between us and the presiding officers, but at the end of the day, it is our members that will participate — but now we must have a clear guidance for our members,” Majodina said.

“We were just affirming the current procedure, which has been used from April until today. We arenot trying to take over.”

The DA’s deputy chief whip, Jacques Julius, still registered concerns about whether MPs will be free to vote against their party if they vote through their party whips.

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