Thandi Modise clashes with senior MPs over voting method on Mkhwebane question

Andisiwe Makinana Political correspondent
National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise. File photo.
National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times

National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise has lambasted parliament's chief whips' forum for trying to usurp her powers in deciding the voting method for next Tuesday's decision on whether to hold an inquiry into public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office.

She accused the forum of overstepping the mark in making what should have been her decision.

In an uncharacteristic move, ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina shot back, telling Modise she was blowing the matter out of proportion.

The chief whips of political parties decided on Wednesday that the standard voting method adopted for hybrid sessions, where MPs vote through their party whips, will be used and that those MPs who want to vote differently to the party would indicate so publicly.

Secretary to the National Assembly Masibulele Xaso told a meeting of the assembly's programme committee that the decision was an affirmation of the current approach to voting, where party whips would indicate the voting positions of their members. The presiding officer would then ask if there’s any member that wants to vote differently from what has been announced by the chief whip or by the whip of the party, he said.

IFP chief whip Narend Singh added that at its weekly meeting, the forum supported the idea of the way MPs normally vote, saying there was nothing unusual about voting for the independent panel's report and that they've used the same voting method when they were considering budgets worth billions.

African Christian Democratic Party chief whip Steve Swart urged the presiding officers to be “very cautious” during the consideration of the independent panel's report inasmuch as ensuring that there will be no discussion on the merits of the report but that the discussion be limited to process.

Swart said reflecting on the merits may affect the legality of the process if there is any discussion on the substance of the report. This had also been the legal opinion received by parliament.

I'm not throwing out toys but honestly, sometimes that overstepping of the mark does create problems for us.
Thandi Modise

That's when Modise snapped, saying the chief whips' forum had already gone into the legalities as they had already decided to take a decision on the method of voting.

“I don't think that process actually lies with you. But that's fine with me. Sometimes I think when things are legal, we need to keep within the legalities,” said Modise.

“The chief whips' forum now decides how we vote - that responsibility is taken away from the presiding officers.

“In trying to make my life easy, you are complicating it because [you are] definitely saying, on that particular day, when you table this report, you must be a figurehead, you have no role. You take away the responsibilities of the presiding officer, so from that moment onward, as far as I'm concerned, you are running the show as the chief whips' forum. We might as well let you run this whole thing,” said an angry Modise.

“I'm not throwing out toys but honestly, sometimes that overstepping of the mark does create problems for us,” she said.

“Speaker, I think you are blowing this out of proportion,” responded Majodina.

She explained that they were not trying to take over what the presiding officers are doing. “We were saying let's be consistent with what we have been doing, and if there is a new method, should there be a need for voting, then the presiding officers will do that.

“Ours was just to co-ordinate and agree on something, not that we want to take over. I think I must defend the chief whips' forum.

“We know the separation of powers between us and the presiding officers, but at the end of the day, it is our members that will participate - but now we must have a clear guidance to our members.

We were not trying to take over.
ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina

“We were just affirming the current procedure, which has been used from April till today. We were not trying to take over,” she said.

The UDM's Nqabayomzi Kwankwa apologised for the chief whips, saying they had felt it was important that at a relevant time a decision be made about how MPs are going to vote.

“You are quite right in saying you are the authority with the discretionary powers to say what the voting method should be,” he said.

The DA's deputy chief whip, Jacques Julius, registered concerns about whether MPs will be free to vote against their party if they vote through their party whips.

The independent panel appointed to assess the merits of a motion to have Mkhwebane removed from office, recommended parliament institute an inquiry and investigate her fitness to hold office.

The panel, led by retired Constitutional Court judge Bess Nkabinde, said it had found substantial information that constitutes prima facie evidence of incompetence and misconduct against Mkhwebane.

According to the rules regulating the removal of heads of Chapter 9 institutions, after receiving the report of an independent panel, the house has to decide whether to hold an inquiry or not.

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