The South African Human Rights Commission informed the Committee that the entity had been restructured so that instead of having one Commissioner per province, each of the eight Commissioners had been assigned a different area of responsibility in terms of the mandate of the Human Rights Commission, such as healthcare, equality, education, children and migration, civil and political rights. The Commission had also identified four areas of concern that each Commissioner would have to address in the course of his or her work: poverty, inequality, unemployment, and violence.
As with all other public bodies, the budget of the SAHRC had been cut for the current medium-term budgetary framework. The Commission would like additional funds but would see what it could do with what it had. The Chief Executive Officers of the Chapter 9 Institutions had requested a meeting with the President to address the budget cuts. The Commission had decided to freeze two administrative posts and one research post to reduce personnel costs. The Commission would also vacate one of the floors it was occupying at its head office as that would reduce the annual rentals expenses from R 14 million to R 9 million. The Commission would like to see the government putting up a dedicated building for the SAHRC as that would ultimately lead to savings.
Following the Constitutional Court judgements that the recommendations of the Public Protector were binding unless overturned by a court, the Commission had determined to take the same approach with South African Human Rights Commission recommendations. The matter was still under discussion with the Department of Justice but that was the position of the Commissioners.
The Commission reported that it had received a budget of R178 million but that, after expenses had been paid, it had only R3.3 million for programmatic work. By the following year, only R40 000 would be available for programmatic work.
Members asked how it was possible that only 1.8% of the budget was being used for the core business. Would the Commission not have had to close down if it were a private company? Did the organisation exist only to create employment? How could the Committee support the Commission in the National Assembly when it seemed that there was no need for the Commission as it existed only to employ people?
One Member asked for the long-outstanding Leeudoringstad School Report about the events at the school in North West in 2014. Was the Commission aware of the abuse of human rights by the SABC, not only at SAFM but also at Thobela FM. What was the Commission doing about it?
Was the Commission reaching out to the people so that they knew what the HRC could do for them and to help them? What role did the Commission see for itself in working with communities where there were service delivery protests? Would the Commission educate people not to destroy infrastructure when unhappy, as opposed to only policing human rights infractions? Did the Commission have a feel for how much violence was caused by small arms and light weapons, especially in townships and urban areas?
A Member asked if any of the Commission’s recommendations or remedial actions had been challenged as not being binding? What was the balance between policing human rights transgressions and promoting a human rights culture? The SAHRC had a right to ask for money from the Lotto and other organisations, unlike other Chapter 9 institutions. Had the Commission attempted to find its own money? Would the Commission consider reverting to the old structure to cut down on travel costs and to develop relationships with the community?
The Chairperson welcomed the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). He mentioned that the Committee was taking strain in listening to the budget presentations as everyone was asking for more money.
Remarks by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC)
Commissioner Priscilla Jana, Deputy Chairperson, SAHRC, thanked the Chairperson for the opportunity to present and offered the apologies of the Chairperson, Adv Bongani Majola, who was overseas on business. Commissioner Chris Nissen accompanied her as well as Adv Tseliso Thipanyane, CEO, Mr Peter Makaneta, CFO, Mr Lloyd Lotz, Provincial Manager of the Western Cape, Mr Lwethu Yoli, Human Rights Officer in the Western Cape and Ms Fadlah Adams, Senior Researcher.
The SAHRC had two presentations: firstly, the presentation of the strategic plan and the Annual Performance Plan by Adv Tseliso Thipanyane and, secondly, the presentation of the budget by Peter Makaneta.
Presentation of the SAHRC Annual Performance Plan
Adv Thipanyane informed the Committee that the Annual Performance Plan (APP) that he was about to present was the first APP of the new Commissioners of the SAHRC who had taken office in January 2017. By the time the Commissioners had taken office, most of the work had been done in respect of the APP for 2017/18. He had re-joined the Commission in June 2017 so he could be held accountable for his advice to the Commissioners.
The Commission had re-structured and done away with the system of one Commissioner per province. The eight Commissioners had been assigned different areas of responsibility in terms of the mandate of the Human Rights Commission. The Chairperson would be responsible for healthcare while the Deputy Chairperson would focus on equality and social cohesion. The other areas of focus were disability and social security; children and migration; education, and water, sanitation and housing. The part-time Commissioners would focus on land, environment and right to food, and civil and political rights.
The Commission had determined to focus on four areas of concern. Each Commissioner would have to address the four focus areas in the course of his or her work: poverty, inequality, unemployment, and violence.
The SAHRC had noted that the Western Cape was in the process of creating a Children’s Commission, which was very interesting and would complement the SAHRC focus on children.
As with all other public bodies, the SAHRC had a budget cut for the current medium-term framework. As with everyone else, the SAHRC would like additional funds but the Commission would see what it could do with what it had. The CEOs of the Chapter 9 Institutions had requested a meeting with the President to address the budget cuts, amongst other issues. The SAHRC had frozen three posts in an effort to address budget issues. The Office Manager for the CEO would also serve the CFO and Chairperson’s Office, which saved two posts, and one research advisor would serve two part-time Commissioners, saving another post.
Following the Constitutional Court judgements that the recommendations of the Public Protector were binding unless overturned by a court, the Commission had determined to take the same approach with SAHRC recommendations. The matter was still under discussion with the Department of Justice but that was the position of the Commissioners.
It the past, the SAHRC hardly ever monitored reports and checked whether recommendations had been implemented or not. There would be a focus on doing that in the new financial year. The SAHRC would also be focusing on the abuse of human rights in the public sector, especially at local government level. The Commission had an obligation to work with those people who became engaged in service protests because their rights were being abused.
The SAHRC had been significantly involved in litigation, especially in the Equality Court, but in the current APP, it would be looking at broadening its approach to dealing with human rights abuses. There would also be a greater focus on ensuring that the public could access information about the HSRC.
The SAHRC submitted reports to international bodies. It had observer status in the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and presented reports to various UN bodies. The SAHRC wrote reports and appeared before committees on behalf of the government. `
Comments by the Chairperson
The Chairperson commented that South Africans were the most ungrateful people. He noted that the man who should be given credit for conceiving and working for the creation of a human rights body in South Africa was Dr Zola Skweyiya who had recently passed on. Because people did not talk about their own history, they thought that human rights was mana from heaven. He had read a report that stated that less than 40% of South Africans understood the Constitution or the Human Rights Bill.
He asked what the SAHRC could actually do to address poverty because poverty was a question of service delivery and resources. Government departments had to address those issues. Violence against women and children was evidence of the deepening moral degeneration and had to be addressed. When was the country going to contextualise that matter in the light of its history? When he heard about litigation, he was concerned about how much of the budgets government departments were spent on legal fees defending their departments against Chapter 9 institutions, instead of serving the people.
The implementation of the Kader Asmal Report was important because it could save costs by rationalising Chapter 9 institutions. Not implementing it was a failure on the part of government. Municipalities had been voted in by the poorest of the poor and yet the municipalities did not even put aside funds to establish advice centres. Institutions were producing documents and sent reports to international organisations, including the United Nations, but the poor people were forgotten. Even the intention to create a Children’s Rights Commission was re-creating something that had already been there in 1987.
The term of office of this government was coming to an end in May 2019, which meant that the government that was going to be elected the following year might also want to be revolutionary and start afresh and re-do what had been done a long time ago.
He was saying those things because he wanted to sensitise the Members to the fact that at the end of the session, and informed by the Members’ recommendations, the Committee had to come up with a plan of action of doable things that the government could do before the elections. Resources were not available to do everything so what was the minimum that could be done to make a difference in the time available and with the resources available? Government had to show what it had done in the past five years. The poor people were not interested in taking government departments to court; they were just looking for food for survival. Parliament had not passed the legislation on hate speech and the next Parliament would have to start the debates again.
The Committee should take advantage of the appearance of the SAHRC before the Committee to ask what were the things that could be done that were doable and tangible so that MPs could say to the people those things had been done by the SAHRC? Producing reports did not help the poor in the country. Members should not find fault with the SAHRC but help them to shape a product that would be useful to the people on the ground, especially the women and children. He thanked the CEO for a good and short report that had ensured that the Committee had time to engage.
Presentation of the budget of the South African Human Rights Commission budget for 2018/19
Mr Makaneta said that after expenses had been paid, the Commission had only R3.3 million for programmatic work.
The Commission’s budget for 2018/19 had been cut by R 4.8 million from R 183 million to R 178 million. The impact of the budget cut was that there was less money available for the core programmatic work. In 2017/18 the Commission had had R 8 million for core work but that had been reduced to R 3.3 million. By the following year, only R40 000 would be available for programmatic work.
As a result of the budget cut, the Commission had to reprioritise its budget and devise some stringent measures. The Commission’s organisational structure was being reviewed to ensure efficient usage of personnel resources. The SAHRC was reviewing the office lease for Head Office with a view to optimisation of office space usage and reduction of spending on office accommodation. Open plan offices would allow the Commission to reduce the rental from R14 million to about R9 million. Over 5 years, office rentals had cost R80 million.
The Chairperson noted that foreigners were utilising government properties while government entities were spending millions on rental, and utilising money that could be spent on programmes.
The Commission had developed a cost-containment plan which was being implemented and monitored on a regular basis. Plans had been developed for some level of monitoring with respect to the mandate but some monitoring in accordance with international instruments remained unfunded, such as monitoring facilities for people with disabilities. Personnel cost salary adjustments had been factored at 6,7% as directed by National Treasury.
Mr Makaneta continued. He indicated that R3 million had been spent on audit fees. The Commission was asking the Auditor General for an exemption from paying audit fees. He reiterated that R178 million had been received in the budget but only R3.3 million went on programme implementation. Vacancies that emanated would be assessed by the CEO to determine whether they needed to be filled.
Ms M Mothapo (ANC) reminded the CEO that the SAHRC had promised to submit the 2014 Leeudoringstad School Report about the school in North West. The lack of constitutional awareness concerned her. The only available Constitution booklets were in Afrikaans. She asked that the booklets being made available in the local languages of the provinces. She asked about the SAHRC’s relationship with the Foundation for Human Rights.
She was worried about the budget that left only R3.3 million for core works but two Commissioners based in Cape Town were flown to Gauteng for meetings. How could the Commission reconcile that with the budget cuts? In respect of the recent SABC issue of abusing the rights of their employees, what was the SAHRC doing about it? The Commission might be aware of SAFM but there were also problems at Thobela FM which was recycling former employees at the expense of very young employees who had been dismissed. President Ramaphosa had said that there would not be any job losses and youth employment would be created.
Mr G Skosana (ANC) welcomed the presentation but wanted to check the accessibility of the Commission to the rural market as most provinces were vast. Was the Commission reaching out to the people so that people knew what the SAHRC could do for them and to help them? Instead of toyi-toying or taking people to court, people could be getting assistance from the SAHRC. The Commission had pointed out that 250 municipalities were not reporting. That was worrying. Only 36 municipalities were complying. Were the Municipalities aware that they were supposed to report?
Only 1.8% of the budget was being used for the core business. If it was a private company, they would be preparing to close it. It seemed as if the organisation only existed to create employment. There was no money left for the core business. It was a serious challenge. He did note that some posts had been cut. The Committee and various government departments should see if they could assist the Commission in respect of cheaper accommodation, perhaps in government buildings because the Commission did not have money to do what it was supposed to do.
Mr M Maila (ANC) noted that the money available for the core business of the SAHRC was just above what the audit cost. He did not have a problem with the SAHRC remedial actions being binding, but had any recommendations or remedial actions been challenged as not being binding? He noted that one of the thematic areas was the containment of violence. One of the causes of violence was the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Did the Commission have a feel for how much violence was caused by small arms and light weapons, especially in townships and urban areas?
Mr W Horn (DA) asked how the SAHRC had worked out that it only had 1.8% of budget as operational funds. He thought that maybe some of the operations were included in the balance of the budget. He would like it explained. He strongly agreed that the amount spent on rentals needed to be addressed. The issue of violence was a scourge in the country. The Commission was looking to establishing or broadening, if it existed in any way, the human rights culture in the country. What was the balance between policing human rights transgressions and promoting a human rights culture? He noted the destructive violence in North West where people had been destroying public infrastructure over the past two days. South Africa was a poor country that struggled just to deliver the most basic of services to citizens. He was not saying that anyone should take away the right of people to be angry or unhappy but what role did the Commission see for itself in working with those communities? Would the Commission go and educate people not to destroy infrastructure when unhappy, as opposed to policing human rights infractions?
Mr L Mpumlwana (ANC) said that the SAHRC and the Committee should work together to solve the problems that the Commission had. He did not understand how the revised structure could work. He suggested that Commissioners should be allocated according to areas throughout the country because that would save travel costs. They would not have to travel across the country to deal with a specific issue. For example, education issues would happen right across the country. Commissioners had to go and listen to the people and it was best if the Commissioners were located in an area where the people could get to know them. He asked the SAHRC to consider that suggestion as he believed that it would be more effective, and the public would know exactly who the Commissioners were.
The primary target ought to be people who had no rights or who were on farms as they were slaves who had no home. People did not even know that they actually had human rights. People in prison needed to know their human rights, as well as the homeless. That was where the Commission needed to start.
Mr Mpumlwana had a proposal on finance. The SAHRC had a right to ask for money from the Lotto and other organisations, unlike other Chapter 9 institutions. Had they done that to get more money? In some countries in the world, Commissioners had offices in their home and communicated electronically, travelling only to meet people. In one particular country, there was a soldier in an area with whom people could lay complaints. In this country, there was nowhere that people could go. SAHRC was for the rich people. He was not saying that those people were not important, but the media was driving the SAHRC such as in the Esidimeni case or the Momberg case.
The Chairperson said he would hate a situation where the Committee went to the National Assembly and said that there was no need for the SAHRC as it existed only to employ people. He recommended that the SAHRC go back and have a two-day workshop on the issue. The Committee had engaged the SAHRC in Limpopo about an issue, but it had not come back to the Committee. People were destroying property because they did not know their rights or how to access those rights. Had the Commission got together with the Foundation for Human Rights and shared resources? Before the Committee reported to Parliament, he wanted a report from the SAHRC
Mr Maila added that the Committee was not saying that the victims of Esidimeni were not vulnerable, but that the media was only interested in that case.
The Chairperson agreed
The CEO said that the SAHRC had already had two weeks of strategic thinking and planning in late 2017 and early 2018. It knew the past but believed that it needed to do things differently. What it had presented was a new approach in which the Commission had decided on four thematic areas, and all Commissioners had to address the four thematic areas while dealing with the issues in their portfolios. The Commission had changed its meeting regime to quarterly meetings.
SAHRC had planned to limit litigation as that focused a great deal of resources on a single case. However, the Commission would go to court in pressing cases but it wanted to use its influence on judgements. It needed to litigate but it needed to use powers in a very decisive way. SAHRC had taken Mrs Momberg to court but they might have been able to do more in respect of addressing factors that had led to that situation. The intention in 2018/19 was to increase the impact of the Commission. After a year they would measure their work.
The Kader Asmal Report showed that the Country spent R 2 - 3 billion on Chapter 9 institutions. However, it was not necessary for each institution to have its own library and set of law reports, etc. The discussions had to happen urgently. There needed to be a smarter way of dealing with the Chapter 9 institutions. The Commission was comfortable with a Child Rights Commissioner in the Western Cape. The SAHRC had a Child Rights Commissioner, but it was a huge task.
The Commission was concerned about rentals and had already decided to give up one floor in the building in order to save R 4 million. That had been a decisive move. In Angola, the government had built an office for a Commissioner. The government should build an office for the Commission in South Africa and the rental payment would be used to pay off the building. All the money that the Commission had spent on rental could have been used to build offices instead of paying rental to private persons. It did not make sense to pay R 14 million on rentals and have only R 3 million for operational expenses.
The Commission spent a lot of money on human resources but those staff members were the players who made human rights happen. They were lawyers, researchers and people who conducted workshops. Success was dependent on the personnel. Human Rights offices could not be run by robots. He admitted that they should see where they could save money but one had to look at how much other Chapter 9 institutions spent on personnel and how much government departments spent on human resources. There needed to be a formula for Chapter 9 institutions indicating expenditure patterns. The operational funds were for the Commissioners and staff to go to conferences and international meetings but the work of the Commission was done through the human resources.
The CEO informed the Committee that the Department of Justice printed the constitutions. SAHRC merely distributed some of them. The Commission had been talking to the Foundation for Human Rights which had suggested that SAHRC could take over school competition.
He informed the Committee that the Commission had resolved that the two Commissioners based in Cape Town had to relocate to Gauteng. In addition, the Commission had nine provincial offices and tried to reach out to the people, but it would never be enough. Did the SAHRC access the poor and those in squatter camps? Largely the Commission responded to complaints, but it was also allowed to initiate and thus drive the agenda. The Commission had determined that the approach would be changed to 50/50 – 50% response to complaints and 50% self-initiated work. More white people knew about the SAHRC but more black people went to the Public Protector, and she had a bigger budget. The SAHRC was responsible for the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) and had run an awareness campaign throughout the country. Municipalities were, therefore, well aware of the need to report. However, some national government departments, and even Chapter 9 institutions, did not report.
The Commission considered the issue of violence to be the most intrusive abuse of human rights. With the new strategic plan, the HSRC had a focus on violence and had planned a study tour to learn about more about how to deal with violence from a human rights perspective. That was one way to assess the SAHRC: base the assessment on the extent to which the SAHRC could reduce violence.
Responding to Mr Mpumlwana, the CEO stated that the SAHRC had moved from a provincial Commissioner system as it had caused problems, but there were provincial offices with nine or ten people at each office to ensure that there was a presence in each province and somewhere that people could go to report human rights abuses. Commissioners were not simply operational people. The role of Commissioners was to give political oversight.
The Chairperson reminded the CEO of the crisis in transport.
The CEO stated that for 20 years the model of Provincial Commissioners had not worked. Mr Mpumlwana could disagree, but he would see how the new system would work. Media coverage was extensive across the country. The Commission did extend its reach to all parts of the country
Commissioner Jana agreed that the SAHRC needed to devise a plan of action as to how they could
strengthen the recommendations. The Commission needed to strengthen engagement with government and should meet with Ministers regularly. Many of the SAHRC areas of concern fell under government departments.
Ms Fadlah Adams Senior Researcher, SAHRC, said that the Leeudoringstad report had been released and she would share it with the Committee Secretary. North West had had a follow up meeting after the report had been issued. R250 000 had been paid to parents of learners who had died in the fire in the special school, but they were not satisfied s that matter was ongoing. The Commission intended to monitor all special needs schools to prevent similar tragedies and to ensure that.
Mr Mpumlwana said that he was disappointed as he had thought that the SAHRC would be working with the Committee. Members had provided suggestions and solutions. The CEO agreed about the cost of rentals but then he talked about a tour to Europe – that was the man who had said that government had to give the Commission more money. The CEO had ignored all suggestions by Members and had defended his positions. He had hoped that the CEO would at least hear him. He would find it difficult to support the SAHRC in Parliament.
Ms Mothapo asked for the deadline by when the Cape Town-based Commissioners had to relocate. The issue of Esidimeni had been raised with the CEO, or his predecessors, although new CEOs were successors of previous incumbents and took responsibility for their actions. If SAHRC had acted differently earlier on, would the situation not have been different? The Chairperson of the SAHRC was responsible for Health but recently issues had been raised about conditions at Baragwanath. Why was the SAHRC not being proactive?
The Chairperson did not expect immediate answers to those questions. But the Commission had to attend to things, especially the service delivery protests. The SAHRC was a very important body and the Committee could not go to Parliament and say that it was an ill-conceived Commission. The SAHRC had to go back and see what could be done. The service delivery protests needed to be arrested by ensuring that people received services or people would not be prepared to vote.
The Commission needed to have another discussion with the Committee on the issues and he would find time for them to meet again. The SAHRC reported to the UN but did not care about the local people. The Committee accepted that it was a new Commission and that it carried a lot of baggage from the previous Commission that had worked in silos, but things had to improve. He would ask the Committee Secretary to arrange for another meeting. The SAHRC was the face of human rights in the country and at the United Nations and he did not want the commission to let everyone down. The Committee was not attacking the Commission.
Mr Skosana asked for a report on the cases that the Commissioners had attended to and concluded in the time that they had been in office so that the Committee could convince Parliament that SAHRC was achieving results.
Mr Maila stated the issue of Life Esidimeni had opened everyone’s eyes to issues relating to health, especially in Gauteng and he would be happy if the Commission could be hands-on to ensure that there was not a repeat. He was particularly concerned about health services in Gauteng.
The CEO promised that a report would be provided on the relocation of the two Commissioners from Cape Town.
The Chairperson told the Committee Researchers that he would like a report on the meeting by the following week, the recommendations, a programme of action for the SAHRC and where the SAHRC needed to improve. The Committee was doing things differently. Celebrating Nelson Mandela and Mama Sisulu and the father of Human Rights, Zola Skweyiya, meant that everything had to be done differently.
The Chairperson said that the Commission had great capacity to do things. The CEO had hit the ground running and was doing well. Commissioner Nissen was all over the country and was possibly missed at his church. The SAHRC was doing the work, but had to tighten things.
The meeting was adjourned.
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