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Mbete ruling triggers pandemonium

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The pandemonium that broke loose in the National Assembly on Thursday was triggered by Speaker Baleka Mbete’s attempt to limit the time for members’ motions.

“In terms of Rule 2, I rule that notices of motion and motions without notices be limited to 45 minutes,” she told the House, after telling MPs that the afternoon’s agenda could result in the sitting going on “possibly to midnight, or beyond”.

Mbete also advised that African National Congress Chief Whip Stone Sizani would move a motion that most of the long list of budgetary review and recommendation reports on the day’s agenda be stood over.

Her ruling prompted Democratic Alliance Chief Whip John Steenhuisen to rise and tell her she was not empowered to limit the time for members’ motions.

Mbete told him there was an “unforeseen eventuality” which allowed her to invoke the rule.

“This is how long it will take us to debate 38 reports; it is unforeseen how long members are going to be able to sit here and process everything that has to be done…,” she said.

It was only 35 minutes later, after Sizani rose to suggest the House continue as originally planned, that Mbete reversed her ruling.

This was not before Steenhuisen had accused her of “abusing her position” as Speaker.

“And I would sincerely hope that the only reason you’re doing this is that [ANC secretary general] Gwede [Mantashe] phoned you and instructed you to do it. Because I expect more from you… as a Speaker,” he told Mbete.

After hearing Sizani’s proposal, and following a call from Steenhuisen for clarity, Mbete announced: “We are proceeding with the programme as consulted and as adopted this morning. And the content of the ruling is referred for further consultation.”

The loud howling and chanting of MPs, which had reverberated throughout the parliamentary precinct for more than 30 minutes, then subsided, and the House settled down to the business of hearing motions. SAPA

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