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

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Justice and Correctional Services

18 August 2009
Chairperson: Mr N Ramatlodi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met to discuss the nominations received for the vacancies on the Human Rights adjournment to consider the final CVs received. A Member stressed that the purpose of each party suggesting its preferred names was to try to reach as inclusive a shortlist as possible, and stressed that this should not be seen as a party political process, which was reiterated on various occasions during the meeting. The ANC, the DA, the IFP and COPE then presented their preferred names. A DA Member commented that most of the ANC’s nominations were drawn from the CVs submitted late, and inferred that this might be problematic. The parties all commented that there had been a high standard of applicants. An ANC Member suggested that the first approach should be to agree upon a number of candidates, and then determine whether the preferred names were fit to serve. The DA disagreed with this approach, believing that the Committee must first determine the range of skills required, and then ascertain whether those suggested could deliver those services. The IFP stressed that it was important to develop and maintain a human rights culture in South Africa, which would be achieved by appointing competent and independent human rights adherents, rather than those finding favour with political parties. The DA reiterated that the report by the outgoing Chairperson indicated what skills were required. Alternatively, a previous Member of the Portfolio Committee during the last Parliament, Adv Johnson, had drawn up a protocol that could be used. Members debated whether to try to achieve a short list of 20 or 30 names, debated whether special considerations should apply to a candidate who could represent the rights of a specific group of people. It was noted that eight names were common to all the opposition parties’ lists, and a further 11 nominations were received from the ANC. Members heard that there were probably too few women nominated. The Chairperson asked that Members should re-examine their preferred candidates, create more space for women candidates, and return on the following Tuesday to try to finalise the list of names to be sent to the full Committee.

Meeting report

South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC): Nomination of candidates to,  and compilation of short list
The Chairperson asked whether all members re-affirmed the decisions taken last week in relation to the candidates to be considered for appointment to the South African Human Rights Commission.

Ms D Smuts (DA) reminded Members that a decision had been taken to gather together every nomination that had been received, since there was some doubt whether those responsible for accepting nominations had in fact received all CVs or passed them on. This would ensure that all people who ought to be considered for appointment to the Commission were in fact represented. She asked whether there were any other late arrivals of documentation.

The Chairperson stated that although there were still further late nominations, the Committee should be very careful about the process to be adopted.

Mr M Oriani-Ambrosini (IFP) asked whether condonation would be granted for applications received up to that day, but not beyond.

Ms Smuts asked when the Committee would see the final late nominations

Mr P Holomisa (ANC) was sure that the cut off date for all nominations had been the previous day, and queried why such questions were being raised.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini said that he was attempting to establish the extent of discretion and whether the Committee could set limits to its deliberations.

The Chairperson explained that he was still awaiting the distribution of the curriculum vitae (CVs) of the candidates nominated late.

Mr Holomisa noted that he had not seen any CVs and asked when this would be done.

The Chairperson said it would be done today, and the Committee could meet the next day for consideration.

Ms Smuts pointed out that the next day was a caucus day. This meeting needed only to draw up a short list, not a full review of the candidates’ competency.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini asked what the intended procedure would be.

The Chairperson stated that each party represented would produce its preferred short list. Any names common to several lists would be listed. He wanted the Committee then to examine all of those nominated from the beginning of the process until now. He wanted the Committee to decide whether to how many to include in the final short list.

Ms Smuts stated that she understood the purpose of adducing names was that the short-list be as inclusive as possible, not exclusive nor a pre selection. The outcome should be to select the best candidates from an impressive list, not to waste the Committee’s time in haggling over party submissions. This was not a political issue, and the best candidates for the South Africa Human Rights Commission were needed.

The Chairperson suggested that the list be confined to 15 candidates.

The Chairperson then suggested an adjournment for 45 minutes, to enable Members to review the final CVs of those nominated most recently.

After the adjournment, Mr P Holomisa (ANC) started the process. He announced that the ANC supported the inclusion of candidates numbers 92, 107, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120,  121, 122 and 123 on the shortlist. This was the full list of nominations by the ANC.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini noted that it was interesting that most of the ANC’s nominations had been drawn from the late submissions that were condoned. He asked whether there was any purpose in the process, whilst adding that he was not suggesting that anything was wrong in such an approach.

Mr Holomisa responded that there had been no suggestion that the late nominations would automatically be accepted and referred to the main Committee. However, the nominations received late were interesting. He urged the Committee to be flexible and noted that all nominations could be included.

Ms Smuts reiterated that virtually all the nominations by the ANC came from the late submissions, and she was uncomfortable with this. She appealed to the ANC to reduce its list so that the other parties could participate as well, and to ensure that there was not unnecessary and wasteful expenditure incurred in inviting nominees to attend interviews, when the ANC had apparently predetermined the nominations, and not necessarily on the basis of their merits for appointment to such an important body.

Ms Smuts, on behalf of the DA, noted that the DA preferred the inclusion of candidates No 7, 10, 11, 4, 26, 35, 36, 39, 49, 53, 57, 60, 64, 84, 85, 103 and one other named candidate, whose number she did not give. She noted that the DA regarded all as being outstanding. There were many others, apart from those already included on the ANC and DA preferred lists, who would add a significant contribution to the SAHRC in terms of advancement of human rights in South Africa.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini presented the preferred list of the IFP. His party had considered the nominations to be largely outstanding, and some who were worthy candidates had been excluded merely by reasons of practicality. He noted that the IFP’s preferred candidates were numbers 6, 7, 11, 24, 26, 36, 7 and 57.

The Chairperson thanked the three parties for their submissions. He suggested that the Committee now proceed to reduce the suggestions to 15 names, which would be submitted to the whole Committee. He wished the nominations to be as inclusive as possible and to ensure a strong Human Rights Commission.

Ms Smuts pointed out that COPE had not yet been afforded the opportunity to submit its nominations.

Ms L Adams (COPE) noted that her party’s preferred list comprised candidates numbers 7, 8, 11, 25, 26, 37, 39, 41, 47, 49, 57, 64, 67, 84 and 89.

The Chairperson then asked whether there were any other parties who wished to make nominations. There were no nominations.

Mr Holomisa noted that some numbers were choices common to all parties, but said that there should be other reserves and that parties should try to reach other commonality.

Ms N Michael (DA) noted that numbers 11, 26, 36, 39, 7 and 57 were identified by all parties.

Ms Smuts interposed that it might be more advantageous to examine and determine the range of skills required from the Commissioners, rather than putting the cart before the horse, by selecting those upon whom the Committee agreed and then ascertaining whether they could deliver the services required by the SAHRC.

Mr Holomisa said that in the past the Committee had first agreed upon a number of candidates, and their names, and then set about finding out if they were fit to serve South Africa as Human Rights Commissioners. He thought that this was a reasonable way to proceed.

Ms Smuts stated that the list advanced by the ANC did not exhaustively represent the qualities and capabilities of all the candidates nominated, and was unduly representative of the late nominations received.

The Chairperson asked Ms Smuts to clarify what she was saying.

Mr J Sibanyoni (ANC) said that, having agreed to accept late nominations, he personally would have felt it unfair if they had not been included in the preferred list. The Committee should not discriminate against any nomination, no matter when it was received. All were to be treated equally. There might be good and proper reasons why these nominations arrived late. The Committee should guard against creating problems.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini added that he was inclined to favour the view adopted by Mr Holomisa. However, he was worried that future majority parties could use this as a precedent to impose their will on Parliament. He quipped that although the ANC was currently the majority party, there was no guarantee that this would continue into the future, and the majority party should not be favoured merely because it was in the lead at present. It was important to develop and maintain a human rights culture in South Africa. This would be achieved by appointing competent and independent human rights adherents, rather than party hacks who would satisfy the egos of certain persons.

The Chairperson said that he would prefer all Members to be on board. However, consensus should not happen just for the sake of consensus. He suggested that the parties should again consider their nominations and attitudes, and re-examine the lists of submitted CVs.

Ms Smuts suggested that a draft be created for submission to the full Committee. Members should be ascertaining the skills required, which were set out clearly in the report recently submitted by Mr Jody Kollapen, outgoing Chairperson of the SAHRC, and then determine which of the candidates best exemplified such skills, character and temperament. She was aware that parties would dispute the issue, but suggested that this would be better than having the majority party impose its approach through a tyranny of numbers.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini pointed out that the ANC’s preferred list included three candidates who claimed to have received their training and experience in human rights in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which to him seemed to him to be rather a contradiction in terms.

Mr Holomisa then suggested that the nominations by the ANC, DA, IFP and COPE should be reviewed. He suggested that perhaps a final short list of 20 should be set, and that Members must work to achieving that number.

Ms Smuts interposed that the Committee would be lucky if it agreed to limit the number to 20, and suggested that 30 was more likely.

Mr Holomisa asked that 20 be agreed upon.

Ms Adams asked that consideration be given to a disabled candidate, who would ably represent the disabled.

The Chairperson asked whether any criteria for appointment to the Commission existed.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini said that these were set out in the Constitution.

Ms Smuts pointed out that although these criteria were set out in the Bill of Rights section of the Constitution, the Committee should rather have regard to Mr Kollapen’s report, and the demarcation of duties by the Commission among its skills base. This, not party political considerations, determined how human rights in South Africa would be protected and advanced. Other than the fact of his disability, the candidate mentioned by Ms Adams did not seem to posses any skills or experience specifically in the field of human rights, and she did not think that such appointment would advance human rights. The SAHRC was not, nor was it intended to be, a sinecure for sentiment. The candidate should be fitted to the position, not the reverse.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini suggested that, rather than fixing the number at 20, the ANC should submit a further 10 nominations and then the number of those under discussion now be increased to 30. From there it could be whittled down to what was suitable and necessary.

The Committee Secretary noted that the following candidates were common to the opposition lists: Numbers 7, 11, 25, 26, 36, 39, 64 and 84. In addition to those eight, there were a further 11 proposals from the ANC.

Ms Smuts stated that she could not support the approach by Mr Oriani-Ambrosini. She reiterated that she wanted certainty what this Committee would recommend. She wanted to know precisely what each of these candidates offered in the field of human rights. In order to establish the criteria, certain parameters should be established. A former Member of this Committee, Adv Carol Johnson (ANC) had produced a protocol for appointment, reflected in previous Minutes. However, if this did not meet with Members’ favour, then they should look at and work in accordance with Mr Kollapen’s report.

Ms Christine Silkstone, Content Advisor, Parliament, was asked to comment. She stated that the broad requirements for appointment to the Commission could be determined from the report from Mr Kollapen.

The Chairperson then asked whether sufficient women were on the list.

Ms Smuts suggested that the Committee look afresh at Adv Johnson’s protocol in this regard.

The Chairperson noted that this was an area of concern.

Ms Silkstone proferred the view that four women nominees were insufficient. .

Ms Smuts said that it was of prime importance to look at the skills and experience offered by potential nominees, rather than looking merely at numbers, when coming to a decision about which candidates should be referred to the enlarged Committee.

The Chairperson noted that Members must look again at their proposals, creating more space for women candidates. Members should return on the following Tuesday. When a short list was established, Members could revert to their parties to consider the final list that would be called for interviews and possible nomination on the final short list for appointment.

The meeting was adjourned.

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