Parliamentary rules for Zuma impeachment likely ready 'end of March'

President Jacob Zuma in parliament.
President Jacob Zuma in parliament.

A subcommittee of Parliament’s rules committee is hoping to finalise parliamentary rules for the impeachment of President Jacob Zuma‚ including their adoption by the House of Assembly‚ by the end of March.

The subcommittee met on Wednesday to take forward the process begun several years ago to formulate impeachment process rules. It was prompted into action by a ruling of the Constitutional Court that it do this without delay.

The court handed down judgment late in December in a case brought by the EFF‚ the United Democratic Movement and the Congress of the People.

The three opposition parties asked for an order declaring that the National Assembly had failed to put in place mechanisms and processes to hold President Jacob Zuma accountable‚ for failing to implement the remedial action ordered by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in relation to the misuse of state resources on the upgrade of his Nkandla residence.

The parties also sought an order compelling the National Assembly to convene a committee to investigate whether the president was guilty of any impeachable conduct under section 89 of the constitution.

In a majority judgment‚ the court ruled that a prerequisite for the removal of the president was the holding of a factual inquiry into whether there had been a serious violation of the Constitution or the law‚ serious misconduct or the inability to perform the functions of office. The judgment also found that parliamentary committees and ad hoc committees were not suited for this purpose.

On Wednesday‚ the subcommittee‚ chaired by Richard Mdakane‚ decided at the end of its deliberations to distribute draft proposals to the different parties for consideration and to meet again later.

One of the main issues discussed was how to prevent the factual inquiry being subverted by majoritarianism‚ with even ANC MP Mnyamezeli Booi emphasising that mechanisms needed to be put in place for this. In the past‚ the governing ANC used its majority in the National Assembly and ad hoc committees to protect Zuma from attempts by opposition parties to unseat him.

EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi recommended that a panel of three to five judges be on permanent standby to conduct an impeachment inquiry when necessary‚ but DA chief whip John Steenhuisen questioned whether Parliament could delegate its responsibility to hold the executive to account elsewhere.

Also of concern to MPs was how to prevent the speaker of the National Assembly from scuppering any attempt at impeachment by refusing to institute a preliminary fact finding inquiry.

One way to prevent this was by defining in the rules what constituted "serious" violation of the constitution and "serious" misconduct.

However‚ Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution executive secretary Lawson Naidoo‚ who was present at the meeting‚ did not think it wise to incorporate a definition of seriousness in the rules‚ saying this might not cover all future circumstances.

The National Assembly’s subcommittee is meeting on Wednesday, January 10 2018, to review the rules and discuss the draft procedure for removing a president.

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