Parliament closes loopholes in process to remove a president

Parliament. Photo: File

Parliament. Photo: File

Under the new rules adopted by MPs this week, any member of the National Assembly can bring a substantive motion calling for the removal of the president.

Parliament’s rules committee has agreed on a process that the national assembly must follow if it were to remove a sitting president in terms of section 89 of the constitution.

The committee adopted the rules unanimously and has recommended that they be approved by the national assembly, a spokesman for parliament said on Thursday.

Though the constitution provides for the sacking of a president by Parliament in two different manners in two different sections, it did not have an established process for dealing with that in section 89 where it happens through a substantive motion.

Under the rules adopted by MPs this week, any member of the National Assembly can bring a substantive motion calling for the removal of the president in terms of this section. The speaker then has to refer the motion, plus any supporting evidence to a panel of three independent legal experts who must asses if there are enough grounds for Parliament to proceed with an inquiry against the president.

It had been moot whether the members of this panel should be independent or members of parliament. Under the new rules, the Speaker will consult with political parties represented in the assembly before appointing the panel.

The panel must function “impartially and without fear, favour or prejudice”, the committee said, and conclude its deliberations within 30 days and then report to the National Assembly. Members of the chamber must then decide whether to proceed with an inquiry, and if so, this must be done by a specially constituted impeachment committee.

The committee must establish the veracity of the charges against the president, and again make a recommendation to the national assembly.

“Once the Impeachment Committee has reported, the House must schedule the report for debate and decision at a House sitting with due urgency. If the report recommends that a president be removed from office, the question must be put to a vote,” parliament said.

Two-thirds of the members of the house must vote in favour in order for the president to be removed from office.

In terms of section 89, the grounds of removal are a serious violation of the constitution or the law, serious misconduct or inability to perform the functions of the office.

The rules committee began work on these rules while former president Jacob Zuma was in office but did not finalise them. However, in December last year, parliament was ordered by the Constitutional Court to finalise the rules without delay, forcing the legislature to give priority to the matter.

The ruling was handed down in response to an application by the Economic Freedom Fighters, the United Democratic Movement and Congress of the People against the speaker, seeking an order compelling parliament to scrutinise Zuma’s conduct.

The application followed an earlier, damning ruling against Zuma when the court found that he had flouted the Constitution by failing to implement a directive from the public protector to refund the state for improvements to his private home in rural Nkandla done at taxpayer’s expense.

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