The Powers, Privileges and Immunities Parliamentary Committee is expected to meet today to look at a complaint involving the conduct of Landless People’s Movement leaders Bernadus Swartbooi and Henny Seibeb, who last week disrupted a joint sitting of parliament.
The two parliamentarians were embroiled in a brawl with security forces after they were ordered to leave the chamber by speaker Peter Katjavivi during the question-and-answer session of President Hage Geingob’s State of the Nation Address. While Swartbooi was escorted out of the chamber, his deputy, Seibeb, was shoved and manhandled out of the August House by security personnel, forcing Katjavivi to abruptly suspend the joint sitting.
The National Assembly, in a strongly worded statement on Friday, said Katjavivi has referred the matter to the privileges committee. The privileges committee is now expected to hold an inquiry into the conduct of the two MPs.
Ironically, Swartbooi is also part of the six-member committee and will this time around recuse himself from the process, as he is conflicted.
The committee is chaired by Katjavivi.
The other committee members are Swapo MPs Agnes Kafula, Sebastian Karupu and Phillipus Katamelo.
Official opposition leader McHenry Venaani is also a member of the committee.
Katamelo yesterday confirmed the meeting will take place today, even though they have not received the official communication from the National Assembly.
Attempts to reach Katjavivi yesterday proved futile, as his phone went unanswered.
In the statement over the weekend, National Assembly secretary Lydia Kandetu condemned the conduct of the two MPs, while she also defended a decision by Katjavivi to abruptly adjourn the sitting.
“The Parliament of the Republic of Namibia does not condone ill behaviour, especially from Members of Parliament, who are supposed to and are obligated to maintain the highest standards of integrity and respect,” she said.
“Both members acted dishonourably and disrespected the authority of the legislature by the grabbing the Mace of the House from the Speaker’s rostrum, a symbol of the power and authority of the legislature as well as tearing apart an important national document. This behaviour is totally unacceptable, especially from a Member of the House.”
During a media conference shortly after the SONA, Swartbooi blamed the disruption on the speaker’s attitude towards them, saying the powers that be were agitated by some of the questions posed to President Geingob.
“They want puppet opposition members who should clap for them,” said Swartbooi.
“We are not disrespectful… that does not hold water because we are progressive – and where we agree on issues, we agree – and where we disagree, we disagree.”
Katjavivi was also accused last week of allowing members of President Geingob’s security detail to remove the two MPs from the House.
“For presidential guards to forcefully remove a Member of Parliament from the chamber is also telling in terms of our separation of power. The President was a visitor there; therefore, [he] must let the host handle the situation in the House. His bodyguards should focus on him – not the parliament; that is [for] Katjavivi and his security team to solve,” said political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah.
Several opposition MPs also criticised the speaker for suspending the sitting without affording them an opportunity to pose their questions to the President even though the two MPs were removed from the House. Only four parliamentarians had the opportunity to do so before chaos erupted in the National Assembly.
“I travelled all the way from Rundu with questions to ask the president and this was my only opportunity. I am not condoning disruptive behaviour but the speaker is unable to control that House. The rules are there to remove a disruptive person from the chamber, but you cannot just stop proceedings simply because of unruly behaviour,” Rundu Rural constituency councillor Paulus Mbangu, who is also a National Council member, said, adding that ending the session was “not right” and disappointing.
- Additional reporting by Nampa