Parliament has to be robust and MPs must not ask “sweetheart” questions to ministers dealing with Covid-19, speaker of the National Assembly (NA) Thandi Modise said on Thursday.
The National Assembly Programme Committee (NAPC) held its first virtual meeting on Thursday. Modise chairs the multiparty committee, which focuses on the weekly, quarterly and annual programme of the NA.
Much of Thursday’s discussions was about a hybrid system, where 50 MPs would be in the house, and others following along via conferencing technology. There was general support for the idea, once the technological requirements are met.
There was also general consensus that ministers dealing with Covid-19 should be the focus of the assembly’s oversight.
Setting an example
ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said if the Department of Basic Education wants to reopen schools, then MPs can’t stay away from parliament.
“What kind of example are we setting?”
ACDP MP Steve Swart, who recovered from a Covid-19 infection, supported the idea of a hybrid system.
“We need to show the nation we’re coming to parliament,” he said.
ANC MP and parliamentary counsellor to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Gerhard Koornhof, said: “We must send the message out to the public: Parliament is open, we are functioning.”
UDM MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said the move to physical sittings of parliament must be gradual.
“We can’t afford to hide away,” he said.
There was one party, however, who opposed the hybrid system.
EFF MP Veronica Mente said the Western Cape, where parliament is situated, has become the epicentre of the pandemic. She accused the MPs who supported being in Parliament of being populist.
Modise said she was satisfied with the quality of the virtual meetings that parliamentary committees had had over the past two weeks, albeit that some MPs were concerned about the time allowed for the meetings.
Modise said, after two hours, the systems start collapsing.
Modise said: “We want to hold the executive to account. We must ensure the public is not robbed.”
She said they “need to be cracking the whip” on the quality of the questions the committees asked the ministers.
“Are MPs asking the correct questions?” she asked. “Parliament must be robust in asking the questions. If we have sweetheart questions in our meetings, we’re not helping ourselves.”
House chairperson Cedric Frolick said the meetings must start on time, as it does not create a good impression of the NA when meetings start late.