DA denies DNA Bill walkout

ANC claims that the DA tried to obstruct the passing of the DNA Bill are 'total nonsense', says the opposition.

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The DNA Bill is one step closer to being signed into law after it was passed by the National Assembly last week.
The DNA Bill is one step closer to being signed into law after it was passed by the National Assembly last week.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has asked the Parliamentary speaker to investigate claims by the ANC that the DA tried to obstruct the passing of the DNA Bill last week by using "silly obstructionist tactics".

According to ANC chief whip Stone Sizani, the DA MPs staged a walk-out just when the chairperson was about to electronically determine the quorum of the house. "Secondly, they abstained from electronically confirming their attendance by refusing to press the buttons when requested to do so by the house chairperson. Thirdly, their deputy chief whip and other MPs rose on frivolous points of order with an objective to prevent the voting from proceeding," says Sizani.

DA chief whip Watty Watson, however, rejected the accusations, saying they are outright lies. "There is no way that we walked out [of the house]. Nobody walked out," says Watson.

"The truth of the matter is that at the first count there were only 175 members present. The ANC has 265 members. Now they are saying the DA MPs did not press our buttons when the count was done [electronically]. That is totally untrue."

On Thursday, the house chairman reportedly had to postpone the voting on the Bill after there were only 193 MPs present, even after the bells had been rung for five minutes to summon MPs to the chamber. The required quorum is 201. Later it was announced that the table staff had done a head count and there were now 213 MPs present, after which voting could proceed.

Sizani says the ANC does not regard mere numbers or head count as an issue. "It's about parliamentary multiparty participation and engagement. We are not a one-party state or a totalitarian system where only one party takes decisions in Parliament. However, if the DA wants the parliamentary task of passing laws to be a sole responsibility of the majority party, such is the challenge we would accept."

Watson says the DA has supported the passing of the DNA Bill for more than two years and when quorum was reached on Thursday, its members voted in favour of the Bill.

Backlog burden

Implementation of the DNA Bill, formerly known as the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act, has been delayed numerous times, despite being approved by Cabinet in December 2008, over concerns that a DNA database could infringe on citizens' privacy.

The Bill sets out the circumstances under which DNA samples should be taken from persons charged with serious crimes and those convicted of serious offences. It will see the creation of a database, using biometric technology, which would allow for DNA profiling, DNA typing and DNA fingerprinting, and provides for the voluntary giving of DNA samples to help police in missing persons cases, and to identify human remains.

The DA has supported the DNA Bill since its inception, but continues to express its reservations concerning its implementation.

DA shadow minister for police Dianne Kohler-Barnard says the passing of the Bill will see DNA samples taken from every Correctional Services inmate, as well as every newly arrested offender in the country, creating a very real fear that a forensic backlog of monumental proportions will develop.

"The minister of police has admitted that forensic backlogs had increased by 322% since last year. We had been assured that the massive backlogs from 2007-2010 were a thing of the past - yet they are back with a vengeance, having soared back up to 10 247 entries," says Kohler-Barnard.

She says the database, which will reportedly cost R1.3 billion to implement, could give life to hundreds of "cold" police cases by matching DNA from the unsolved crime scenes to the DNA of known felons. "Although the DA has been one of the strongest supporters of this legislation as a crucial 21st Century crime-fighting tool, this revelation [of the massive existing backlog] shows that this system may well fail through a lack of resources."

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