DA serves Parliament with a legal demand to find suitable venue within 14 days

Issued by Siviwe Gwarube MP – Chief Whip of the Official Opposition
08 Feb 2023 in News

Note to editors: Please find attached soundbite by Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) legal team has served Parliament with a letter of demand to find a suitable venue for the National Assembly, in particular, to conduct its business while the rebuilding of the precinct is ongoing.

It has been over a year since the houses of Parliament burnt down and little to no work has been done to investigate the cause of the fire or start the process of rebuilding the precinct. The Minister of Finance announced last year – during the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement – that R2 billion had been allocated to Parliament for rebuilding. We are still none the wiser about the timelines of that process.

More pressingly, the National Assembly has been relegated to convening in the Good Hope Chamber, a venue which accommodates 30% of its total members. The proceedings are done in a hybrid fashion, a measure we have long argued is ineffective for the work of Parliament in the long run. If the timelines that Public Works and Infrastructure has presented are true, it means this will be the arrangement for the next four years.

In our letter of demand, we argue that Parliament has had enough time to find an alternative venue for the institution during the course of the year. The stop-gap measure of hiring the City Hall on an ad-hoc basis is both costly and unsustainable. This year alone, Parliament is budgeting R8 million to host the State of the Nation Address (SONA), the debates that follow and the Budget Speech later this month. The cost drivers of this bill are the hiring of ICT equipment every time the institution is meant to hold in person or joint sitting of the two Houses. This could easily be avoided by having had an alternative venue in which Parliament can procure its own ICT equipment for use over the next several years.

In addition, it is our contention that Parliament is now firmly in contravention of the Constitution. The institution’s core mandate is to hold the executive to account and this has not been happening adequately due to the challenges of connection in a country with rolling blackouts. Some members of the executive are only too happy to take advantage of this tardy manner of doing business.

Furthermore, Parliament’s work should also be publicly accessible. This has not been the case since 2020 due to the COVID19 pandemic and the fire. Any member of the public is entitled to observe the proceedings of Parliament and its committees. This cannot be the case now since the temporary venue can only accommodate a fraction of MPs. Many committees – during which deliberations on important legislation take place – are online. This essentially excludes any member of the public who does not have internet access.

Parliament has had a year to rectify these issues. Instead, the process has been characterized by lethargy and reluctance to recognize that South Africa is poorer for not having a fully functioning national legislature.