South African Human Rights Commission filling of vacancies: discussion on process

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Justice and Correctional Services

05 August 2009
Chairperson: Mr N Ramatlhodi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee discussed the process it would follow in relation to the shortlisting of the candidates to fill the vacancies on the South African Human Right Commission. Members agreed to study the curriculum vitaes that had so far been received and would reconvene on the 11 August 2009 to determine which candidates would be placed on the shortlist, making a final decision on the shortlist on 12 August. The full Committee would consider the shortlisting. Members were however unsure as to the number of commissioners to be appointed, even though five posts had been advertised, as the Commission could consist of between five and eleven Commissioners. Although some Members expressed support for having more than five appointments, others cautioned that this would adversely affect the budget. The Committee agreed to obtain a legal opinion to obtain certainty on how many commissioners could be appointed.

Meeting report

South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC): Filling of vacancies
The Chairperson noted that the aim of the present meeting was to discuss the process that the Committee would follow in relation to the shortlisting and appointment of candidates to the vacancies on the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). He stated that the various curriculum vitaes of candidates would be distributed amongst the Committee Members, and that the Committee should reconvene on Tuesday 11 August to determine which individuals should be put on the shortlist. The Committee would finalise the matter on Wednesday 12 August 2009.

The Chairperson noted that the time frames were short due to the fact that the terms of office of present commissioners were to expire, and the main issue before the Committee was to decide on the number of commissioners to appoint. It could perhaps be not less than five commissioners and not more than ten. He asked what the current legislation said on the issue.

Ms Christine Silkstone, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, responded that the Interim Constitution had provided for ten commissioners and one Chairperson for the Commission, making a total of eleven commissioners. The SAHRC Act provided for a minimum of five full-time commissioners, so the number to be appointed could be between five and eleven. The 1996 Constitution was silent on the matter.

Ms D Smuts (DA) said that she had written to the Speaker of the House and had asked why only five Commissioners’ posts had been advertised. She noted that an analysis by the previous appointment committee had shown that a maximum of eleven commissioners was allowed. President Mbeki, during his term, had only appointed five commissioners, and the Committee dealing with the appointments at the time had felt that perhaps he had misunderstood the position when appointing only five. The Ad Hoc Committee that had reviewed the Chapter 9 institutions had recommended that no fewer than seven commissioners be appointed. The South African Human Rights Commissioners already had their work cut out and she asked whether it would not be possible to appoint five more commissioners in addition to the five posts being advertised.

Ms Silkstone responded that appointing more than five commissioners would have practical considerations, not least the budgetary constraints, and she suggested that the Committee might wish to get legal advice.

Mr S Holomisa (ANC) pointed out that appointing eleven commissioners could be problematic, given the fact that institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission could be destined for merger or creation of one institution. He noted that Mr Kader Asmal, Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Review Committee, had recommended appointment of seven commissioners, which he thought was adequate. He thought that there would be no need to readvertise as a number of applications had already been received. He agreed, however, that the Committee should obtain legal advice.

Mr Vhonani Ramaano, Committee Secretary, agreed that there were already budgetary constraints. If seven commissioners were to be appointed there would not be enough funds. He said that at present the budget only allowed for the appointment of four commissioners. He suggested that perhaps five commissioners should be appointed immediately, and perhaps an additional two at a later stage.

Ms Smuts noted that the Committee would have to give some more thought to the matter. She also noted that she believed that one of the terms of office was not due to expire, which meant that this would involve six new appointments to bring the total up to seven.

The Chairperson agreed that the Members must consider the issue further, and that the Committee would seek legal advice. He informed the Committee that 110 curriculum vitaes had been received.

Ms Smuts stated that if a subcommittee was appointed to deal with the shortlisting, then there should be proportional representation of the different parties, although she would prefer, and formally recommended, that the entire Committee be involved in the shortlisting process.

The Chairperson accepted the recommendation, and noted that the process would be developed in the following week.

Mr Holomisa noted that the budgetary constraints must be further looked into.

The meeting was adjourned.

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