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Mbete, Modise to be strict during SONA

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National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise will apply parliamentary rules and conventions strictly during President Jacob Zuma’s state-of-the-nation (Sona) address on Thursday.

“We will strictly be following the rules and we will confine ourselves to the rules,” Modise told a media briefing by Parliament’s presiding officers on Tuesday ahead of the official opening of Parliament.

While there were no rules barring MPs from asking questions and raising points of order during the first joint sitting of Parliament for 2015, convention dictated that Zuma be allowed to deliver his speech uninterrupted, Modise said.

Her comments come in the wake of a threat by the Economic Freedom Fighters to disrupt Zuma’s speech by asking him questions about his Nkandla homestead.

“The rules of Parliament are informed by what we understand to be convention, preceded [by] what is in the law and what is the Constitution, so I think the president can rest easy,” Modise said, playing down fears that Zuma’s speech would be disrupted.

“South Africa can rest easy. We will be confining ourselves to what is doable in the rules.”

Modise, Mbete and their deputies insisted they would rely on precedent.

“We do not expect members to ask questions. They have been informed in their inductions and subsequently in the practice that occurred about what happens at the Sona, so that is not what we expect and we hope that is how things will turn out. And if it doesn’t the Speaker has authority to maintain order in the House,” said deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli.

Mbete said her rulings during Zuma’s speech would depend on what happened.

“We will have to come to terms with it as it happens and we will have to apply the rules, the conventions, the practices, the protocols.”

Mbete would not be drawn on the possible deployment of the public order policing unit.

“Some of the issues are at operational level and therefore they are not issues that the presiding officers in detail would be able to say this is what happens in this minute,” she said.

The Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act of 2004 empowers the Speaker or National Council of Provinces chairperson to call police to the parliamentary precinct should the need arise.

Police are only entitled to enter the House without permission if lives or property were at risk.

Said Modise: “I cannot say yes or no, the public order police will be in Parliament.

“We are hoping that the need does not arise for us to use that provision of the powers and privileges [act], therefore we are hoping we will not have to call on any police to come to Parliament on the day of the state-of-the-nation address.” SAPA

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