Getting thrown out will be easier than ever as parliament goes fully digital

The bust of former president Nelson Mandela can be seen outside the parliament building in Cape Town ahead of the State of the Nation Address on 19 June 2019, Cape Town. Picture: Jacques Nelles

It’s official: the country now has a virtual parliament, complete with all the rules of procedure applying to members of parliament and proceedings of committees of the National Assembly.

The rules committee of parliament on Friday decided to use Rule 6 that dealt with unforeseen eventualities to adopt digital platforms as a new way of working, in light of Covid-19, which requires the practice of social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Under the new approach, which has been tested during virtual committee meetings that took place for several weeks, Cape Town will remain the seat of parliament while members link to it virtually from anywhere.

The committee, chaired by speaker Thandi Modise, resolved that during the virtual parliament and committee meetings, privileges of members would remain as they were currently and members would be able to raise points of order.

They would have the same powers, privileges and enjoy the parliamentary immunity they ordinarily enjoyed in physical parliamentary proceedings, and the MPs would be subjected to the current rules on order in public meetings and debates.

A disruptive or misbehaving MP or one who refused to withdraw a remark despite the request by the speaker to do so, would be removed from the House or cut off from the meeting either through muting the member or the MP being removed into the “waiting room” of the virtual meeting, which would be done technically.

Quorums for committee meetings or sittings of parliament would be determined as members who had accessed the meeting via the secure link sent to their email address and such members would be deemed to be present for the purpose of establishing a quorum and taking a decision or voting on matters.

Members would be entitled to cast their votes either electronically, by voice or by having their vote recorded by their respective whips.

Members were of the view that the roles of whips would be significant during the virtual approach and Democratic Alliance chief whip Natasha Mazzone said whips would be able to fulfil the demand easily.

MPs asserted that it would be important for the whips to stand up and be counted in representing their parties as their roles were being highlighted under the new set-up. Meetings, where possible, would be live-streamed so as to enable public access to the proceedings in line with participatory and representative democracy, and the sitting would be deemed to be in Cape Town even when a member was linked from anywhere.

There was a general consensus among the parliamentarians about the rules governing the virtual parliament and committee meetings.

ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina and IFP chief whip Narend Singh were the first to support the rules and members agreed to endorse the new approach.

Modise reiterated that the committee would adopt the rules but some elaboration was needed on some parts of the rules.

ericn@citizen.co.za

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