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Parliament, Thursday, 7 September 2023 - The Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, MP has declined a request by the African Transformation Movement (ATM) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM), received on 5 and 6 September 2023 respectively, requesting a secret ballot voting procedure for the consideration of the Report of the Committee on Section 194 Enquiry.

The Speaker, after careful consideration of the matter and a thorough examination of the relevant legal precedents and principles that guide the Speaker's discretion in determining a method of voting, communicated her decision to the ATM and UDM today.

The Speaker has taken into account the established law that empowers her to determine the voting procedure when no specific method is prescribed by the Constitution or rules. In this case, the rules governing the removal of Chapter 9 office-bearers do not specify the method of voting. The Speaker has also considered the circumstances surrounding the section 194 enquiry and the impending removal proceedings.

The Speaker acknowledges the grounds raised by Mr. Zungula and supported by the UDM as well as the additional reasons put forward by the UDM in support of a secret ballot. The Speaker comprehensively addressed the matters raised, emphasizing the importance of following established democratic procedures and the equal voting rights of all members of the Assembly on every matter.

The Speaker has also considered the argument that party discipline might influence members' votes but highlights that it is an inherent aspect of party politics and the current electoral system. The role of Chief Whips in directing representatives to vote in line with a party's predetermined position has been noted. However, the Speaker also noted that this does not preclude members from voting with their conscience. In addition, the Assembly may only remove a Chapter 9 office bearer on established grounds of misconduct, incompetence or incapacity and therefore any unlawful attempt by the Assembly to remove an office bearer may be subject to judicial review.

Furthermore, the Speaker has considered the prevailing atmosphere in the Assembly and South Africa, finding that it is not toxic or highly charged to warrant a secret ballot. The robustness of the proceedings and the manner in which opposing views have been openly canvassed both by members and the public is seen as indicative of a healthy democracy.

The Speaker believes that a closed voting procedure would deprive citizens, who have a significant public interest in the matter, from identifying their representatives' positions and holding them accountable. She also emphasizes that Chapter 9 office bearers are held accountable through various oversight processes of the Assembly, conducted openly and transparently, and the Section 194 proceedings themselves have always been conducted in a transparent manner.

The Speaker has found no reason to believe that any member will be bribed or exposed to corrupt activities in relation to the vote or that there were any safety concerns which may necessitate a secret ballot.

The Speaker further noted that there is a basis in law to delay the debate and vote on the report which, in terms of Parliamentary Rules, has to be scheduled with due urgency. The proposal for an open roll call voting procedure was discussed and agreed upon in the Chief Whips' Forum and later formally approved in the National Assembly Programme Committee (NAPC). Importantly, no objections were recorded by the ATM or UDM or any other political party in both instances. The Speaker has noted that this request for a secret ballot by the ATM has come six full business days after the decision of the NAPC, raising concerns about the timing of the request.

Therefore, in light of these considerations, the Speaker has indicated that she cannot accede to the request for a secret ballot voting procedure. The sitting will proceed as agreed on 11 September 2023 and will be conducted in terms of an open call voting procedure at a physical sitting to be held at the City Hall at 14h00.