LPM changes tone on judiciary after court victory

05 August 2021 | Justice

JEMIMA BEUKES



WINDHOEK

The Landless People’s Movement (LPM) has lauded the country’s judiciary - which it has so often accused of being captured by the ruling Swapo party.

Following the suspension of its leaders Henny Seibeb and Bernadus Swartbooi from the National Assembly in April, the LPM continuously claimed that “Swapo’s corrosive political interests captured the judiciary”.

The party has since changed its tone following its win yesterday, after the Supreme Court nullified a High Court order suspending the two lawmakers from the National Assembly.

The country’s apex court ruled that National Assembly Speaker Peter Katjavivi had no business instituting disciplinary action against members of Parliament and that he should instead be occupied with maintaining order in the house.

Swartbooi, at a press conference held after the court delivered the judgement, said they are pleased with the outcome, adding that “because of the work LPM has done to break open democratic spaces, judges feel free to make bold judgments”.

“This decision is a political decision for us. The courts have done well to first defend the principle when an individual seeks an interpretation of constitutional rights, that such an individual should not be given punitive judgments. It was Swapo’s intent to take us out for 10 months and have a backlash against LPM,” Swartbooi said.

He added that Katjavivi was hell-bent on profiling them as a violent pair “who pose a fundamental threat to all political parties in Parliament”.

He also accused Katjavivi, together with Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani, of conspiring to keep them out of parliament.

‘Where is the evidence?’

According to Swartbooi, LPM campaigned fiercely to help Venaani get elected as the deputy chair of parliamentary standing committee on privileges and immunities “in order to bolster the power of the multi-party demonocracy”.

“Venaani was elected, the same McHenry Venaani now sits in judgement of those who helped him get there. Even when a gun was planted, these people cannot come over and say our morality does not allow us to be part of a cacophonic attempts,” he said.

Venaani denied that there is any truth in Swartbooi’s statement, adding that it is – instead – a confused attempt to label people without facts.

“I have had enough of Swartbooi and his tirades and calling other people names without justification and without any evidence. Swartbooi has not served in the privileges committee; he never appeared before it, he came only once there. How does he know I am conspiring?

“Where is the evidence? If there is any person who gives tough time even to the chairperson on the question of suspending elected members of Parliament indefinitely, the record is there. History will absolve me. There is no benefit for PDM to conspire with Swapo,” Venaani said.

Throwback

In May, during President Hage Geingob’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), Katjavivi threw Swartbooi and Seibeb out of Parliament for peppering the president with questions about the controversial purchase of resettlement farms from Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa.

Katjavivi ordered Swartbooi to leave the chambers, but he dared the Sergeant-at-Arms to drag him out and when he did, Swartbooi threw down the mace.

A few minutes later, Seibeb tore up the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) as a sign of contempt and was dragged out by the president’s bodyguard.

The same month, the High Court dismissed, with costs, a case in which Swartbooi and Seibeb challenged Katjavivi’s decision to block them from attending Parliament.

Speaker cannot discipline

In his judgement, Judge Dave Smuts explained that the Speaker’s powers under the Standing Rules relating to disciplining members are limited to governing the conduct of members and ordering them to withdraw from the house.

He may, however, not institute disciplinary action against MPs and should instead report the matter to the Privileges Committee and recommend a seven-day suspension, and eventually 14 or 21 days’ suspension.

He went on to say that neither the rules nor the Act provide for the suspension of members pending committee hearings in express terms, and also dismissed Katjavivi’s reliance on the term ‘unforeseen circumstances’.

“The power to suspend indefinitely can in no sense be reasonably ancillary to the Speaker’s powers when taking into account how the legislature intended disciplinary powers to be wielded. In circumstances of a grave disorder, the Speaker is authorised to adjourn the assembly for a period to be stated by him.

This would afford the committee to refer the issue to the Committee of Privileges to attend to it with due speed and make a recommendation to the House,” he said.

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