South African Human Rights Commission budget and strategic plan 2011 to 2014

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Justice and Correctional Services

15 March 2011
Chairperson: Mr L Landers (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) briefed the Committee on its budget and strategic plan for 2011 to 2014. It had re-examined its structure, vision and mission. It had also questioned how it could best align its resources with its mandate. One of its key objectives included securing individual rights for the poor and marginalised, as well as transforming society. The transformation entailed restoring the collective dignity of the nation. The focus for the 2011 to 2014 period was to prioritise the protection mandate of the Commission. Human resource capacity was a major challenge, with 128 permanent staff, but the SAHRC had been debating whether to have fewer staff of better quality, or to increase the numbers of staff available to process complaints in a reasonable time, to avoid criticism around delays. As a departure from the past, the SAHRC had included its Commissioners in the planning process, and the Commissioners had now been assigned specific responsibilities, and were part of the implementation of the values and vision of the Commission.

The five strategic goals were outlined and explained. It was also explained that one of the strategic objectives was
to position the organisation as a focal point of human rights in South Africa. The international Office of the High Commission for Human Rights has given the SAHRC an A-rating. Another major strategic objective was the realisation of human rights in the country. The Section 5 Committees, which were ad hoc committees dealing with child, education and land issues, were to be revived and would meet at least twice a year.

Some Members expressed their support at the SAHRC’s call for more funding, pointing out that its entire yearly budget was less than the amount the Youth Development Agency had spent on one conference, and the lack of funding meant that 52% of the stated objectives could not be achieved. Other Members said that they would like to see what the SAHRC could do with the current budget, and that any further funding must be fully motivated. They also questioned the work being done, noting that the vacancies should either be filled or the posts abolished, that the complaints mechanism and IT needed to be upgraded, and questioned the use of consultants, especially in light of funding constraints. The Committee wanted to know how the complaints handling mechanism worked, why there were inconsistencies between figures for complaints received in certain provinces as against others, despite the respective population sizes, and why certain complaints were handled more expeditiously than others. A Member postulated that the fact that a similar matter was handled differently in two provinces laid the Commission open to suspicions of bias. Members commented that future reports should include comments on the Auditor-General’s comment, should contain the attendance register for commissioners, and could be written in a more user-friendly style. They called for a full written report on the Section 5 committees and on the progress of a named investigation. A Member also requested that it would be appropriate for the SAHRC to engage with the
serious issues of female genital mutilation and corrective rape of female homosexuals, which seemed to be prevalent in South Africa. Although a Member questioned whether the SAHRC would make a comment on contentious issues, another Member indicated that he did not think that this was appropriate, and that there were other forums where these issues should be debated. Members questioned the allocation of work to various commissioners. They also agreed on the need to follow up on the Human Rights Commission Amendment Bill.

Meeting report

South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Annual Performance Plan 2011/2012
Mr Ahmed Kayum, Chief Executive Officer, South African Human Rights Commission, noted that the strategic planning of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) had commenced in December 2010 and incorporated a ‘re-thinking’ of its structure. This entailed a critical self-reflection of the institution and the individuals who worked for it. The SAHRC had also questioned how it could best align its resources with its mandate. A new vision has been developed, of “transforming society, securing rights and restoring dignity". The SAHRC also aimed to secure individual rights for the poor and marginalized, as well as to transform society. This transformation would entail restoring the collective dignity of the nation.

The strategic focus for the 2011 to 2014 period was to prioritise the SAHRC’s protection mandate. Since the SAHRC had a budget of only R89 million it had had to rationalise by focusing on protection, although it still recognised the importance of its other mandates. Human resource capacity was a major challenge, as there were 128 permanent staff at the moment. The SAHRC had been debating the quality versus quantity issue. The protection mandate carried a risk to the SAHRC’s reputation, as if it was unable to speedily resolve complaints, then its reputation would suffer.  One of the central aspects of the mandate was the role of Commissioners. This year, as distinct from the past, the Commissioners were part of the strategic planning process. They had also been assigned specific responsibilities and were part of the implementation of the values and vision of the SAHRC.

Five strategic outcome-oriented goals formed the basis of the strategic plan. Strategic Outcome 1 focused on the improvement of the quality of the complaints handling mechanism. A review of the complaints handling process had revealed that this process was not consistent across the country, so there was a need to compile a complaints handling manual. There would now be a central point where complaints could be registered. Strategic Outcome 2 was to improve the quality of monitoring, evaluation and realisation of human rights. This involved streamlining monitoring and evaluation processes and realising human rights. The research department would produce at least four reports on the monitoring, evaluation and realisation of human rights. Strategic Outcome 3 was
to inspire a culture of human rights through human rights advocacy. Manuals would be produced and trainers would undergo training. The SAHRC would also teach human rights to school teachers across the country. Strategic Outcome 4 was to strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of the SAHRC. This would be achieved through re-structuring the SAHRC and aligning it with the available resources. Strategic Outcome 5 was to improve communication and stakeholder relations. The SAHRC would improve relations with other Chapter 9 institutions, government departments, civil society and other organisations dealing with human rights.

Flowing from the strategic outcomes were the strategic objectives. One of the strategic objectives was to position the organisation as the focal point of human rights in South Africa. The international Office of the High Commission for Human Rights had rated the SAHRC as an A-rated organisation. Another critical strategic objective was the realisation of human rights. The SAHRC had attempted to link all programmes to the strategic objectives, and to achieve alignment. Another key objective for 2011/2012 included the revival of the Section 5 Committees, which were committees within the SAHRC that dealt with children’s, education and land issues. These committees would meet at least twice a year.

The re-structuring process would be essential for creating an efficient and effective SAHRC. The new offices of the SAHRC would save the organisation R120 million in rental fees per year. Capital expenditure had increased slightly as new computers had to be purchased. This was also in line with the intended migration to an electronic complaints handling mechanism. Mr Kayum pointed out that every other Chapter 9 organisation received more than the SAHRC. There had been an increase in the money received by Commissioners and the Office of the CEO, as it had been recognised that the CEO and the Commissioners were responsible for driving the work of the SAHRC.

Discussion
Adv S Swart (ACDP) commented that the SAHRC always requested extra funding and the Committee was sympathetic to its requests and had to consider how it could assist. He pointed out that the Youth Development Agency had recently spent R100 million on a conference, and this was more than the entire budget of the SAHRC for the year. It was “disgraceful” that the SAHRC was trying to achieve its objectives on such a limited budget, and 52% of its objectives could not be achieved owing to funding constraints. The Committee had to protect and assist the SAHRC and see how much could be allocated. The SAHRC has requested that the Human Rights Amendment Bill should be considered by the Committee before the end of the year, and even though the Committee had a lot of other work to do, he urged that it should try to finalise this within the requested time.

Adv Lawrence Mushwana, Chairperson, SAHRC, noted that the Human Rights Amendment Bill was with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ&CD). The SAHRC had made submissions.

Ms M Smuts (DA) liked what she had heard in the presentation, but she felt that it would be useful to see how far the SAHRC could go on what was currently available to it, before it was given more money. The complaints management process and Information Technology (IT) had to be improved. She enquired whether the Section 5 Committees were engaged in talking with people on the ground, and whether these talks would lead to something concrete.

Mr Kayum said that the request from Ms Smuts to see more work from the Commission, including her comment on IT, was a fair and essential request. In response to the comment on the complaints, Mr Kayum noted that two potential consultants had been identified for the development of a complaints handling process. Once the complaints handling process had been finalised the provincial Commissioners would come in for training. 

Mr J Jeffery (ANC) asked what the Section 5 committees were, and what they did.

Ms Lindiwe Mokate, Commissioner, SAHRC, said that Section 5 Committees were advisory Committees that were provided for in the Human Rights Commission Act. They comprised members of the public, academics, NGOs and the relevant international organisations. These Committees were set up ad hoc when needed. 

Ms Smuts enquired if Commissioner Danny Titus was involved with other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Adv Mushwana replied that Commissioner Danny Titus was a part time Commissioner. The SAHRC needed his skills, but he was not available all the time and sometimes was not at the critical meetings. There was no output on his work as yet as he had just been recently allocated to his position.  He would be of tremendous benefit to the Commission. His area of interest was research, and he had indicated that this could be a potential portfolio for him. Commissioners were behind the decisions made in every report issued by the SAHRC. At provincial level the SHRC could not attract senior staff to handle difficult cases because it did not have the necessary funding capacity.

Ms D Schaefer (DA) requested a progress report on the matter from the Free State, handled by the SAHRC, pertaining to toilets. This had been lodged by the DA. She also enquired why this matter was taking longer to finalise than a similar issue in the Western Cape.

Mr Kayum noted that the Western Cape toilet issue was received before the Free State matter, hence the different time frames for finalisation. The research unit of SAHRC was conducting a comparative study on the state of sanitation in the country. It was acknowledged that cases were not being resolved quickly enough.

Adv Mushwana added that more substantive feedback on the Free State toilet matter would be provided.

Ms Smuts said that the SAHRC was vulnerable to suspicion of bias, as the matter in the Western Cape had been finalised whilst the Free State matter was now being subject to research.

Adv Mushwana reiterated that there would be full feedback provided and from that the DA could form its own opinion.

Ms Schafer asked for a time frame.

Adv Mushwana replied that since he was in Cape Town and not in the Free State, he would be reluctant to determine a time frame before he had had a chance to communicate with the Commissioner in the Free State.

Mr Jeffery enquired why the provincial figures for complaints in the Free State was higher than in KwaZulu Natal (KZN), since the latter was the second most densely populated province.

Mr Kayum noted that the KZN office was one of the most efficient provincial offices in the country. Its files were consistently being finalised, and it had a register for all complaints. The Free State office, on the other hand, struggled to overcome staff shortages. The Free State office seemed to have dealt directly with prisoner related complaints, whilst KZN had correctly referred all prisoner related complaints to the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services. The SAHRC had managed to table a Section 184 report to Parliament. 

Mr Jeffery asked why the funding for Commissioners was almost double the amount allocated in the last financial year.

Ms S Sithole (ANC) expressed concern that there was a reduction of salaries due to funding constraints, yet noted the funding for commissioners that had increased. She wondered if this would not impact on performance. She noted that the SAHRC, when requesting funding, would have to produce compelling reasons for the Committee, so that the latter could assist its case for more funding.

Mr Kayum noted that the increase in funds for Commissioners was due to the shifting of funding from other work that Commissioners did, so it was essentially a re-alignment of funding. He also assured Members that the salaries for Commissioners had not been increased at the expense of staff members. The salaries for Commissioners were set by the President and they were entitled to a certain amount.

Ms Sithole enquired if all the vacancies were filled.

Mr Kayum responded that not all posts were filled but this was deliberate. There were some posts that had previously been created that had subsequently been identified as not needed. The SAHRC was awaiting the finalisation of the new structure. It was better to have fewer, but better quality, staff members than to have a large staff component that was unable to deliver. This was the current situation.

Ms Sithole commented that the SAHRC had to either fill the vacancies or to do away with them.

Mr Jeffery requested a written report on the Section 5 Committees. He wanted to know exactly how the complaints procedure worked.

Mr Jeffery found it disturbing to note that the SAHRC wanted to use consultants, especially in light of its funding constraints.

Mr Kayum said that he also was a little sceptical about the se of consultants, but these would be used for setting up certain components of the complaints handling mechanism.

Mr Jeffery commented that the reports of the SHRC were sometimes difficult to follow. For example, it was not clear whether the reports on socio-economic rights had already been tabled, and it was also not clear where the responses of the SAHRC to the concerns raised by the Auditor-General could be found in these documents.

The Chairperson commented that if any entity avoided mentioned the Auditor-General’s report, this tended to sound alarm bells, and SAHRC should bear this in mind for future reporting.

Adv Mushwana thanked him for his comment.

Mr Kayum noted that the SAHRC did have a report on the Auditor-General’s findings and would share it with the Committee.

Mr Jeffery enquired if the SAHRC had any plans for Human Rights Day.

Adv Mushwana reported that the SAHRC had various events lined up for the month of March, which was Human Rights month.

Mr Jeffery asked if the SAHRC had engaged with the Minister of Justice around the DOJ&CD including, as one of its key performance indicators, the promotion of human rights and enforcing compliance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

Adv Mushwana noted that the DOJ&CD had offered its services to assist the SAHRC in setting up the complaints handling mechanism. This was an option that the SAHRC was considering.

Mr Jeffery commented that in future it would be useful for the SAHRC to table attendance reports of Commissioners. He added that he hoped that the SAHRC had indicated, in its Section 18 report, how Parliament had processed the matter.

Adv Mushwana said it would not be a problem to provide the Committee with the attendance register of Commissioners.

Mr Jeffrey said that the attendance reports could be submitted quarterly.

Dr M Oriani-Ambrosini (IFP) commented that he had engaged with the SAHRC on the issue of the genital mutilation of children. There were reports from the European Union human rights groups that corrective rape of female homosexuals was rampant. He thought it was necessary to have a report on these issues.

Adv Mushwana said that a written report would be provided on the issues raised by Dr Oriani-Ambrosini.

Mr Kayum suggested that the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) and Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Linguistic, and Religious Communities were probably more suited to deal with the issues of corrective rape and female genital mutilation.

Dr Oriani-Ambrosini said that female genital mutilation was a crime against humanity. The work of the SAHRC should be heard, and should not merely be a promotional exercise.  South Africa had almost reached the point where it may be unconstitutional to hold people in certain correctional centres, and the SAHRC should be able to pronounce on that.

Adv Swart asked to what degree the SAHRC commented on matters in the media, and what was the SAHRC’s policy on the issue of the Jimmy Manyi /Trevor Manual debacle. He asked if the SAHRC been communicating with the Chapter 9 Unit that was set up in the Speakers Office.

Mr Jeffery cautioned his colleagues not to cause tension amongst the Commissioners. He noted that any complaints in relation to correctional centre inmates should result in the SAHRC consulting with the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services, rather than itself dealing with the matter. He said that it would be preferable for SAHRC to deal with its mandated problems, rather than seeking engagement with any particular leader via the media.

Adv Swart questioned, in relation to an earlier question, whether it was correct that Commissioner Titus should be able to suggest what work he wanted to perform, rather than the Commission allocating work to him.

Adv Mushwana said that Commissioner Titus was a valuable member of the SAHRC. Each Commissioner had valuable skills that were fully utilised by the SAHRC. Everything that was properly said by the Committee would be considered.

The Chairperson expressed admiration for the SAHRC’s vision and mission. He commented that the Committee would follow up on the Human Rights Commission Amendment Bill. He agreed that the SAHRC’s work must be seen as well as being heard. The SAHRC, however, still had to show justification for extra funding.

The meeting was adjourned.



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