Constitutional Literacy Campaign: discussion

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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


30 July 2002

Mr S.P. Holomisa
Mr M.J.Bhengu (IFP)(NCOP)

Although the meeting was not fully attended by Members there were a number of issues discussed by the Committee. This included the following: the composition of the committee in terms of the Rules and especially the attendance by NCOP members. The Constitutional Literacy Campaign was considered and the Committee discussed the possibility of updating the Constitution and what their role in this regard was. The Committee decided that it was not their role to popularise the Constitution but rather to invite submissions from the public and consider these.

The Chair, Mr SP Holomisa, welcomed the members and conveyed the apologies of those Ministers and Deputy Ministers who had notified him that they would not be present.
He commented that in light of the small number of people present it would not be viable to proceed.

Ms D Smuts (DP) stated that in light of the small number of people present representing the majority party it would not be viable at that stage to proceed.

The Chair suggested that they look at the items on the agenda first and see whether they could not proceed with the meeting.

Mr MJ Bhengu (IFP) (NCOP) stated that item 2 on the agenda results from a call to Members of the Committee on what has happened so far, therefore he felt that it would be wiser to proceed when they had a larger attendance. Especially as there had been a change to the Chair.

The Chair said he realised that very important discussions and decisions had been made but nothing seemed to have been done, for instance the literacy campaign, everyone had agreed that it should be embarked upon, but there seemed to be a problem with funding.

Ms GNM Pandor (ANC) (NCOP) suggested that they proceed with the meeting as this was the best attendance they had had so far, stating that for purposes of discussion they could proceed. She further commented that notices had been given out on 26 June 2002 when most Members were departing for the recess. Could the Chair look into having the notices distributed earlier.

The Chair stated that as regards sending out the notices they had to ask for permission for meetings to be held and in their case permission was only granted on 26 June, hence the delay.
He then asked the Members as to whether they were all agreeable to proceedings. There were no objections from Members.

On the question of membership of the Committee the Chair stated that it had been decided to have it on the agenda because he was not sure as to whether the membership was in line with Joint Rule No.8. The Constitution requires a Joint Constitutional Committee. The Joint Rules provide for the constitution of the Committee, which should comprise a number of Council members and gives a guide as to the way in which the Council should be formulated. It provides for one permanent member and one Special member. The Chair wanted to know if this was indeed the case in the committee.

Mr ME Surty (ANC)(NCOP) stated that they have special delegates, one per province, to represent them but whether they attended the meeting was another question. This was probably due to the fact that they hardly got any correspondence from the National Committee as to when a meeting was scheduled. Furthermore special delegates would only attend the meetings depending on the content of the agenda. The question therefore, that the Chair should be posing is whether they were satisfied with the constitution of the Committee as set out in the rules or should it be reviewed.

Mr Jeffery stated that having looked at one attendance list the NCOP had to date no representative from Mpumalanga Province, he felt that the Chair should write to the NCOP as regards the attendance of their delegates to the meetings.

He further commented that one problem they seemed to be having was that of scheduling. As the Committee is referred to by the Constitution more attention should be given in terms of scheduling. The Committee comprised a number of Ministers and Deputy ministers and this should be taken into account. For instance today none were in attendance because they were attending a Cabinet meeting in Pretoria and also the Justice Committee was meeting at the same time. These meetings should therefore be given a slot where they do not clash with other meetings.

The Chair stated Mr Bhengu as co-chair would take the matter up with the NCOP.

Mr Jeffery stated that it seemed like some of the smaller parties such as AZAPO and Federal Alliance did not seem to be represented. They therefore needed to be reminded that they had a right to be present and if they were unable to attend they should send their apologise.

The Chair stated that they would take this up with them. He further commented that there was supposed to be someone from the Local Council in terms of composition, though that person would not be able to vote. Could the NCOP look into this so that they could get someone.

Ms Smuts stated that she would like to draw to their attention an arrangement made earlier that a subcommittee consisting of three majority party members and three others from the combined opposition members be formed. The Members had then suggested that the number be increased to four and this was accepted and names where brought forward, this proposal was done in June 2000 and a reminder sent out in September 2000.

The Chair asked whether this had been agreed to.

Ms Smuts stated that it had been agreed to but if they wanted to continue with the decision of a subcommittee they could decide on it.

Mr Surty stated that because of the size of the Committee a subcommittee was required which would liase with the political parties. He would therefore encourage the establishment of it but felt that it should not be too large.

Mr Jeffery stated that he wanted clarity as to the position of the NCOP on the subcommittee.

Mr Bhengu (NCOP) stated that according to the copy handed to him by Ms Smuts with a list of the nominated subcommittee members there were four majority party members consisting of three and one NCOP member on each side.

Mr Jeffery stated that he had no problem with the principle of a subcommittee, and had no problem with the designation, as they would be dealing with processing and making recommendations, though the meetings of the subcommittee should be open.

The Chair stated that he would need the names of ANC members to participate in the subcommittee.

Ms Pandor stated that she had no problem with the suggestion of the subcommittee, but they should look at the composition of the committee, as special delegates participate on a purpose basis and not a general basis.

The Chair stated they would refer this issue to the subcommittee to look at. He then asked whether there were any more comments on item 1. There being none they moved onto item 2 of the agenda. The Chair stated that as he was looking through the minutes of the previous meetings, he did not see anything indicating that they referred to previous meeting minutes, this was probably the reason why decisions made at meetings were never implemented. He therefore, felt that they should look at all the minutes so that they could apply their minds as to what transpired.

With reference to the minutes of 21 June 2002 , one of the important decisions he felt had been taken was the discussion as to who should own the campaign on literacy. It had been stated that Parliament should take responsibility. The Chair asked whether there was consensus on this point.

Mr Jeffery stated that he did not know whether they were empowered to make decisions on the parliamentary budget. The Committee could decide in principle whether it wanted a literacy campaign but they would need to discuss with other structures of Parliament, such as the Rules Committee as to whether it was feasible.

The Chair stated that from the minutes of the previous meetings it seemed clear that they needed a literacy campaign, he was merely bringing it up for clarification, he therefore, did not think there was a need to reopen it to debate. He further stated that any decision made had to be presented to Parliament to decide and the necessary process as to how this would be done would be made.

Ms Smuts stated that she would like to emphasise that decisions should not be seen as final in that it was agreed that there was a need to consult with the Rules Committee and the issue of funding needed to be resolved.

The Chair stated that every Member seemed to have been in favour of this campaign, it was now the modalities that needed to be resolved.

Ms Pandor asked what the modalities were and the time frames in which it should be established. To talk about Parliament's funding at this point in time was not possible. She was not sure whether they had reported to the Houses on the submissions and outcomes. There was a tacit agreement to have the literacy campaign but they should do the prior steps first.

She further asked for clarification on the distinction between their role as the Constitutional Review Committee and that of the Human Rights Commission. She would rather be inclined to have Parliament fund the Human Rights Commission to popularise the Constitution than their forming another body to do the work that could be done by the Human Rights Commission.

The Chair stated that there was no objection to the question of the literacy campaign and further that it was not the responsibility of the Human Rights Commission to popularise the Constitution, it was the responsibility of Parliament.

Mr Surty asked what the task of the Review Committee was. He stated that they had discovered a lack of understanding by the public when asked to make submissions to the Committee. There seemed to be a confusion between reviewing legislation and the Constitution. The purpose of the literacy campaign would be to enable the public to know the difference when making their submissions. They should look at the resources available to us to popularise the Constitution such as the Department of Education and even the Human Rights Commission.

He further stated that they had a responsibility to report to the House if not they were fulfilling their constitutional obligation. They should not be over ambitious in how they project the campaign and should set up time frames to find out which aspect of the Constitution would be reviewed.

Mr Masutha (ANC) stated that if they were to ask the question why they needed a constitutional literacy campaign they would probably find many reasons for it which needed to be documented and articulated. As the Bill of Rights is central to the Constitution, the role of the Human Rights Commission will have to be brought on board and in as far as Parliament is concerned it should introduce a public education campaign.

Ms Smuts stated that they needed to identify the real needs. Surely the real and justifiable exercise would be to update the Constitution with all the amendments and find a way of bringing the jurisprudence in. If they were going to be addressing the poor people they would need to state what judgements had been decided. She proposed that this could be done through an educational unit or through the Human Rights Commission in as far as it concerned human rights.

Mr Jeffery stated that the Committee should be running the constitutional literacy campaign: their job, in terms of the Constitution, was to review the Constitution and report to Parliament. It had been identified that it would be difficult to review it when people did not know what was in it. The issue had also arisen as to who should run the campaign; the Committee or GCIS, they had said no to GCIS but they were the only ones with the resources to do so.

The Chair asked which bodies they wanted to engage to find out what programmes they had to popularise the Constitution.

Mr Hlengwa (IFP) stated that the Justice Committee should be the first body invited on board to discuss the issue.

A Member stated that the Constitutional Review Committee should report to Parliament, for them not to find themselves in conflict they should be weary of extending their mandate. In one of the meetings the Committee had set out exactly what their functions would be.

The Chair stated that they needed to know what it was they were reporting on. Their responsibility had been to look at the Constitution as well as its jurisprudence to see as to whether it should be reviewed and also what the public had to say. It was not the responsibility of the Committee to popularise it but they needed the knowledge of the people. Ms Pandor had said that there were various committees or bodies assigned to popularise the Constitution, they simply wanted to know as to how they were doing it. He further went on to state that one of the matters arising was that of reporting, at what stage where they to report? They would have to look at the Constitution and review it and then report on it but they would also have to report that they had requested and received views from the public, should they therefore not report to Parliament after they had consulted with the various bodies?

Ms Smuts stated that she would agree that they report after consultation, and having reviewed the technical reports given.

Ms Pandor stated that they had an out of date version of the Constitution. If they took the decision to popularise the Constitution they were in fact popularising an out of date version of the Constitution. They should therefore be saying that an updated Constitution should be printed which would include all the amendments. When that had been done then they would be ready to popularise it. An update of the Constitution should therefore be an important outcome of the review.

Mr Surty stated that this report had to go to Parliament in terms of the rules, and as a Committee they could alert Parliament of the need to update the Constitution as a possible proposal.

The Chair stated that there was a general consensus to update the Constitution.

Ms Pandor stated that the Department would have to do this but only after being mandated by a resolution from both Houses.

Mr Masutha stated that the role of the Committee was limited, they needed to look at any communication with the public only in regards to the review of the Constitution. A campaign to popularise the Constitution could be seen as not covered by their functions. With regard to a new version of the Constitution the Government Gazette is the official information provider held by government as is the GCIS, why then should the Committee be tasked with popularising the new version of the Constitution? It should be involved only for the purposes of review.

The Chair stated that he felt that it had been agreed that they would not be popularising the Constitution, as there were bodies to do so.

Mr Jeffery stated that they were not an oversight committee, but they probably should write to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to ascertain whether they had any plans to reprint the Constitution.

The Chair then proposed that they move onto item 4 of the agenda. He stated that they were required to review the Constitution independently and also invite submissions from the public, which they had done.

Mr Surty stated that the rule stated the Committee should invite submissions, which the Committee should regard, consider and see whether they were worthy of constitutional review and refer it for recommendation. He felt that determination should not be looked at in broad committee forum but at a subcommittee forum.

Ms Pandor stated that the view of the Committee at previous meetings was not to highlight specific issues. The committee would invite submissions which would be studied and if they felt that a submission should be dealt with by a particular Department or Ministry it would be referred to it. She wanted to know whether they had not issued the call for this year?

The Chair stated that they had but the only problem was that they had not stated the closing date. He further stated that they needed to guide the public but without preventing them from making their submissions. He then tasked the subcommittee with looking at the submissions and determining the matters referring to legislation and those referring to constitutional matters, which would then be referred to the Constitutional Committee.

Mr Jeffery stated that they had made the adverts, made the calls and received the submissions and they could work on them.

Ms Botha asked whether there had been anything sent to the various Departments to make their submissions. If it was only adverts she felt that they were not entirely covering the people whom they wanted to make submissions.

The Chair stated that he imagined an advert was intended for the public and did not exclude anyone. The Departments had not been requested specifically.

Mr Masutha stated that the rules provided for a specific procedure for consulting with the public and not with the two primary stakeholders these being the organs of state and the parliamentary stakeholders. The rules seemed to be structured in a way that they solicited submissions from the public and then engaged the other stakeholders. They should take the initiative to outline a programme and time in which to engage the other stakeholders.

Mr Jeffery stated that the advert was to everyone, an organ of state had made a submission, which shows that this was appropriate.

The meeting was adjourned.


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