The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) presented its 2009/10 Annual Report to the Committee. It noted, at the outset, that it had continually struggled with inadequate finances. This was part of the reason why it had, in this year, achieved only 52% of its objectives. Other problems included problems in human resources, including staff retention and appointments, training and changes of commissioners, and IT problems. The targets that it had set for itself were also, however, problematic. All these issues were shortly due to be addressed in a mid-term review, during which strategic objectives would be reassessed and specific problems would be discussed. SAHRC would be undergoing a restructuring process, to try to use human and financial resources more effectively. It was attempting to limit spending, including travelling costs, and had frozen some posts where provincial managers had resigned, redistributing their functions to other staff. It was also seeking more donor funding, in the light of indications that National Treasury could not increase its allocation, but this could take time. Despite these difficulties, a number of achievements were shown. The SAHRC stressed that the effectiveness of those activities was still to be tested, through monitoring and evaluation. The SAHRC would work with other Chapter 9 institutions to try to improve service to complainants. The value of litigation was being carefully considered, as it took considerable time and resources. More attention must be paid to the failure of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to achieve its desired objectives. The SAHRC also wished to strengthen its relationship with Parliament. The SAHRC pointed out that it had been sending its reports through to Parliament but had to date received no feedback.
Members noted that they had not received some of those reports, including the report on xenophobia and the report on PAIA, at Committee level. The suggestion was made, firstly, that the SAHRC should outline what results it was hoping for, and secondly, that it should drive the process of arranging meetings with committees to discuss the reports directly. Members enquired what criteria would determine whether a complaint did amount to a human rights violation, and asked about the most frequent complaints, how they were dealt with, and whether an analysis was available of trends and actions taken. Members questioned the staff turnover, questioned which government departments had withheld information, and asked whether radio interviews were given in indigenous languages.
The links with the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution and Legal Aid as also with other Chapter 9 institutions were questioned. Members asked how community outreach was done, whether De Doorns had received a visit, and why the SAHRC only appeared to have taken action on sanitation issues in Western Cape, and whether this indicated any bias. It was suggested that the gap between Parliament and SAHRC must be bridged, that the PAIA report should also be discussed with the Select Committee, and that SAHRC should also engage with government through provincial structures.
South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) 2009/10 Annual Report
The Chairperson noted that although the meeting was primarily to look at the Annual Report for 2009/10, the Committee would also like to hear the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC or the Commission) comments on the budget, as the Committee could ask for further budgetary allocations.
Adv Lawrence Mushwana, Chairperson, SAHRC, commented that the Commission had always struggled in the area of finances. It was noted that it had achieved an unqualified audit
Mr Kayum Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer, SAHRC, tabled the attached Powerpoint presentation, and noted that although he had been with the Commission for only two and a half months, he would be able to outline what had been done in 2009/10.
He said that the SAHRC had only managed to achieve 52% of its objectives. This was unacceptable, but had been largely due to problems with finance, human resources and IT problems. The targets that were set were also problematic. The SAHRC would, however, be doing a mid-term review the following day, including a review of the strategic objectives. He mentioned that SAHRC had also been unable to appoint a risk manager. The transition of commissioners and change of leadership could also be a reason contributing to the poor performance. He was not completely convinced that SAHRC was using its money and human resources effectively. These issues were being addressed through a restructuring process, which SAHRC had recently embarked upon. SAHRC was also trying to limit its spending, for instance by flying economy class, whilst certain posts were frozen to try to save money. The posts of three provincial managers who had resigned were being frozen, with other staff being assigned to do their work. SAHRC was also seeking more donor funding since National Treasury had said that no more money was likely to be available from the fiscus. However, such donor funding took time to achieve, and in many cases only came through a year after application was made.
He explained that the SAHRC had been numbers-driven. The report showed that it had completed a number of activities, although the effectiveness of these activities must be fully assessed, through monitoring and evaluation. The SAHRC would be working also with the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) and the Office of the Public Protector (OPP) to give better service to complainants. The value of litigation was being investigated, as it was very costly and time consuming. He added that the failure of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to achieve its desired objectives would need to be discussed. Questions needed to be asked about the enforcement of this legislation.
The retention of staff was also a challenge for the Commission. This would also be addressed in the restructuring process. Strategic planning sessions were also being carried out until the end of 2010. He hoped that the SAHRC would be able to present on any changes early in 2011. He also stressed that the SAHRC would be focusing on strengthening its relationship with Parliament.
Ms Pregs Govender, Deputy Chairperson, SAHRC, added that there was a clear need to strengthen the Commission. She suggested that this could be achieved, firstly, by giving the Commission more financing which would help it to retain staff and improve the IT system, both of which were challenges. She also enquired what Parliament did with the reports that the Commission submitted to it, noting that quite a number had been submitted, but no answers or feedback had been received from Parliament.
Ms D Schafer (DA) wanted to know what criteria were used to determine whether something was a human rights violation, and who would make this decision.
Mr Ahmed said that the criteria for human rights violations ere stated very clearly in chapter 2 of the Constitution.
Mr Mushwana added that the Commission had a legal department, to help decide whether a particular complaint did amount to a human rights violation. Complaints were analysed and the commissioners then made a final decision.
Ms Schafer sought more detail about the complaints that the Commission had received.
The Acting Chairperson asked if there was a trend to the complaints that the Commission had received and what could be done about it. He said that he would have liked an analysis of the complaints and for the Commission to them show what action had been taken.
Mr Ahmed noted that most of the complaints were related to labour issues and prison. Some of these were then referred to other institutions. Among the top ten complaints were matters involving equality issues, detention in prison, housing, labour relations and freedom of expression. It had been difficult to determine trends in complaints, as the various programmes of the SAHRC had tended to work in silos. The SAHRC now was planning to change this and to have more integration. Currently, complaints were being dealt with on an ad hoc basis.
Ms Schafer asked how many staff had been added and why there was such a high staff turnover.
Mr Ahmed admitted that to date SAHRC had not done enough about the systemic problems in the Commission. It was however trying to address this now. He was not able to give figures for staff changes immediately, but did indicate that the overall expenditure on staff had increased, in line with the number of staff increasing and salary increases for each staff member. SAHRC had conducted exit interviews with people who had left. It had emerged that problems with senior managers, and salaries, were considered to be problematic. Certainly, the salaries were not market related. These problems would be addressed.
Ms Schafer asked which government departments had withheld information.
Mr Mushwana noted that when the SAHRC compiled its xenophobia report, it had invited all government departments involved to respond to it. However it had only had responses from the Departments of Police and of Justice and Constitutional Development. He added that there was also a strong need for the Commission to collaborate with other Chapter 9 and other related institutions. A commissioner had been seconded to do this. He said that resorting to litigation was costly and was not always the best route to go. Some complaints, however, were politicised and there was a certain element of scoring political points that would not be achieved through the parties agreeing to mediation processes.
Mr J Sibanyoni (ANC), began by thanking the Commission for the summary of the Annual Report given to the Committee. He was disheartened to hear that three of the Commission’s provincial heads had resigned, and enquired if this was the case in Mpumalanga.
Mr Sibanyoni noted that the SAHRC had conducted interviews on the radio and wanted to know if these were in indigenous languages.
Mr Ahmed said that the radio interviews were conducted in indigenous languages and that SAHRC had been using community radio stations to do this.
Mr Sibanyoni asked if there were any links to the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC).
Ms Govender welcomed the formation of CASAC and felt that it would compliment the role that the SAHRC played.
The Acting Chairperson asked whether the Commission had any relationship with Legal Aid.
Mr Ahmed noted that SAHRC had no formal links with Legal Aid but did interact in some cases.
The Acting Chairperson wanted to know how the community outreach was done, in particular how the communities were chosen and whether this was linked to a specific objective.
Mr Ahmed confirmed that some of the community outreach programmes were pro-active. SAHRC would identify a community and then go and talk to members of that community. However, in most cases it was reactive, and attended when asked to do so by the community. The problem was, at present, that SAHRC was unable to measure the impact of these programmes, although it was aware of the problem and was in the process of developing tools for measurement.
The Acting Chairperson wanted to know whether the Commission had visited De Doorns to investigate the incidents of xenophobia that had occurred there.
Ms Govender noted that the Commission’s Western Cape office had worked in the De Doorns area regarding the xenophobia incidents.
The Acting Chairperson suggested that instead of the Commission simply sending reports to the Speaker, it should rather give a briefing to Committees about the reports, and state what action it would like to see in respect of the matters. He suggested that SAHRC should do this with the Economic and Social Rights Report (ESR), which was due to be completed soon.
Mr Mushwana appreciated this comment, and said that he believed the ESR report needed to be submitted annually.
Ms Govender also felt that the suggestion about the ESR report was valuable. She added that the Commission normally addressed the complaints, but that the systemic problems also needed to be investigated. This would be taken to the strategic planning workshop.
Ms Govender reiterated her question on what Parliament did with the reports that SAHRC submitted to it. She referred to the PAIA report, and said that none of the departments had responded to it.
Mr Mushwana added that he had met with the Minister of Health regarding infant mortality, since a report had been issued by the SAHRC, but the issues had again reared their head. Mr Mushwana was, however, pleased to note some actions taken by the police, as had been suggested in the xenophobia report, which were evident in the recent incidents that the police had brought under control.
The Chairperson said that there was a gap between the Committee and the SAHRC, which needed to be bridged. He also said that he did not recall receiving the xenophobia report at the Committee. The PAIA report was also not presented to the Committee. He reiterated that the Commission should not just send a report, but should also state what it wanted to be done. The SAHRC should therefore set the agenda. He questioned whether SAHRC was engaging Government enough, including through the provincial government structures.
Mr L Landers (ANC) said that there was a disjuncture regarding the role of Parliament. He suggested that this must begin to change, not only at the SAHRC level. Many reports were tabled in Parliament which only ended up being thrown away. A few were given attention, but only because they were controversial in nature. He also suggested that SAHRC should engage with the new body within the Deputy Speaker’s office.
Mr Landers added that Parliament as a whole had not debated the report emanating from the ad hoc Committee chaired by Prof Kader Asmal, and it was important to engage with it. If it was not liked, then the institutions must say this.
Mr Landers applauded the SAHRC for awarding its PAIA awards, but said it was disturbing to see the number of departments and other institutions who were not complying with PAIA, especially the Chapter 9 institutions themselves.
The Acting Chairperson suggested that the Committee should engage with the PAIA section of the report, together with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) committee.
Mr Mushwana said that the issues raised about PAIA should be raised with the relevant person from the SAHRC, and the SAHRC would be pleased to send that person through.
Ms Schafer asked why the SAHRC had refused to investigate the issue of sanitation in the other provinces although it had done so in the Western Cape. She felt that this showed a bias.
Mr Mushwana corrected her, saying that the Commission had not declined any request to investigate the issue of sanitation. It had in fact given that recommendation to the national Minister. There were many instances across the country, and SAHRC had responded to and was currently investigating a matter in the Free State. The Commission had also received four complaints about the Hout Bay issue, and therefore had to investigate these too.
Ms Govender added that the SAHRC did not take up the issue of sanitation in the City of Cape Town itself, but had responded to complaints. She also pointed out to Ms Schafer that the sanitation case finding was the first one made by the SAHRC against the DA administration, since all its previous findings had been against the ANC administration.
Mr Ahmed also pointed out that the DA had been granted one of the Commission’s Golden Key awards. This showed that it was not biased against any political party.
Ms Govender added that Parliament needed to decide how it would deal with attacks on Chapter 9 institutions.
The Acting Chairperson thanked the Commission and also commended it on the another unqualified audit. He concluded by saying that the Committee would schedule another meeting to discuss the issues regarding PAIA.
The meeting was adjourned.
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