Parliament, Tuesday, 14 April 2020 – The Chief Whips’ Forum today, 14 April, had a virtual meeting to discuss pertinent matters relating to the parliamentary business. The Forum is established by the Rules of the National Assembly and acts as a Forum for the discussion and coordination of matters for which the whips are responsible, and may be consulted by the Speaker when appropriate.

At the meeting, a report was given on the meeting that took place between leaders of political parties and the President, especially as it related to contributions to the Solidarity Fund. All the parties expressed general support for the interventions the country is making in its fight against the COVID-19 epidemic. The Chief Whips have agreed that each political party make its determination in terms of what and how its members will contribute to the Fund.

The meeting also discussed areas of priority in terms of parliamentary oversight. In this regard, the meeting was informed of the decisions of the Executive Authority of Parliament regarding this matter. These include that a number of committees whose portfolios are directly affected by COVID-19 matters will be asked to intensify their oversight engagements, especially during the lockdown period. The Forum has fully endorsed this position.

The committees that the Speaker has identified include: Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs; Health; Police; Trade and Industry; Joint Standing Committee on Defence; Basic Education; Higher Education, Science and Technology; Transport; Small Business Development; Finance; Appropriations; Employment and Labour; Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation and Social Development. Parliament has made the technology available to committees to hold virtual meetings.

The meeting was also informed that the Speaker has framed a rule in terms of Rule 6 of the National Assembly, to make provision for virtual meetings. Rule 6 provides that “the Speaker may give a ruling or frame a rule in respect of any eventuality for which these rules or orders of the House do not provide, having due regard to the procedures, precedents, practices and conventions developed by the House and on the basis of constitutional values and principles underpinning an open, accountable and democratic society”. The Forum supports the framing of this rule as it will effectively enable parliamentary committees to meet, take decisions and play their oversight role in virtual platforms.

Lastly, in order to ensure that the Assembly’s oversight mandate continues to be executed even during the national state of disaster, the meeting has recommended that the possibility of virtual sittings of the House for oral question to the Executive be explored. This matter will be discussed with the Speaker.

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