MPs have to abide by Speaker’s instructions – Secretary

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters disrupted proceedings in the National Assembly on Thursday while President Jacob Zuma was answering questions, forcing Speaker Baleka Mbete to suspend the house for a few minutes.

MPs are expected to follow the instructions of National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, Parliament’s powers and privileges committee heard on Wednesday.

National Assembly secretary, Masibulele Xaso, was the first witness to take the stand in the disciplinary hearing of EFF leader Julius Malema and 19 of his fellow MPs.

“If a member is not recognised by the Speaker, ordinarily a member is expected to abide by the directive of the presiding officer,” Xaso said.

Disciplinary process initiator Randall van Voore was questioning him on the events of August 21, when EFF members disrupted proceedings in the House while President Jacob Zuma was answering questions.

Xaso verified the written transcripts of proceedings which showed, among others, Mbete repeatedly asking EFF Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu to sit down.

Shivambu faces a charge of contempt of Parliament for allegedly “improperly interfering [with] or impeding the exercise or performance of the National Assembly authority when he refused to obey the instruction of the Speaker to take his seat”.

Earlier during proceedings committee chairman Lemias Mashile read out the committee’s formal position on Malema’s request that the charges be withdrawn.

“The committee is advised and notes that neither the Powers, Privileges, and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act… nor the schedule to the rules allow withdrawal of charges against members,” Mashile said.

“The committee cannot concede to the withdrawal of charges against the affected members. It does not have the powers to do so.”

Only the Speaker had the authority to withdraw charges against MPs.

Proceedings continued without the charged EFF MPs after they withdrew from the process on Tuesday, following a statement made by Malema.

In his statement, Malema attacked the legitimacy of the committee and asked instead that Mbete be charged for disrupting parliamentary proceedings on August 21.

EFF MPs chanted “Pay back the money” at President Jacob Zuma. They were referring to the R246 million in state funds spent on his private Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal, a portion of which Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had recommended he repay.

The EFF MPs said they would have nothing further to do with the committee’s process. They risk being suspended from Parliament for up to 14 working days if found guilty of disrupting the legislature.