Parties want parliament’s Covid-era virtual meetings discontinued

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and ActionSA are demanding that parliament discontinue virtual sittings and committee meetings.

The parties assert that conducting parliamentary meetings virtually was disruptive and undermined what parliament stands for.

The hybrid model was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was when the government introduced restrictions on movement and physical contacts to curb the spread of the deadly virus. It was still a go-to model after the parliament building was gutted by fire.

The smooth operation of parliamentary duties on virtual platforms has allegedly been hampered. The culprit is the complexity of the logistics involved in coordinating these hybrid meetings.

Physically available to sit and discuss matters

Athol Trollip, ActionSA parliamentary caucus leader, confirmed his party’s stance. He said it can’t be considered a new normal to run parliamentary sittings physically and virtually. However, it was preferable that members of parliament be physically available to sit and discuss matters.

“However, since parliament was allowed to be burned down due to a litany of deficiencies … there is a serious space constraint. The parliamentary precinct [is unable] to hold plenary sessions of the national assembly (NA), joint sessions of the NA and the NCOP,” said Trollip.

He added that when multiple mini-plenary sessions are in session for the passing of budgets, there will also be space constraints.

Trollip said ActionSA supported that parliament sessions should be physical. But he understood that there were unavoidable situations. These forced them to opt for hybrid meetings as they also considered the exorbitant costs of venue hire.

In this case, political parties determine who attends physically and virtually, based on the proportionally allocated seats.

“The chief whips forum considered the EFF proposal to say these meetings should preferably not be virtual. They should rather be physical where possible,” said Trollip.

The EFF believes that the model was effective during the pandemic during the hard times. However, it is considered disruptive at present.

EFF decries technical disruption in virtual sessions

“Virtual sittings are often disrupted by technical issues. These include connectivity problems and system crashes that lead to interruptions and delays.

“The IT infrastructure supporting virtual sittings has been shown to be inadequate. This results in frequent technical difficulties that disrupt proceedings.

“The virtual voting system also lacks transparency. [It] raises concerns about the integrity and accuracy of voting outcomes,” reads the statement.

The EFF urges parliament to consider cheaper, and more spacious venues. These are such as the New Way Community Hall in Khayelitsha, instead of costly hotels.

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