Western Cape Children's Commissioner: publishing applicant names

Social Development (WCPP)

02 October 2019
Chairperson: Mr G Bosman (DA)
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Meeting Summary

List of nominations / applicants not made available to the public at the meeting

The Standing Committee on Social Development met to discuss the process for the appointment of the Commissioner for Children. An advertisement calling for nominations and applications for the position had been widely circulated via the print media, websites and social media. There were 59 applicants.

The Western Cape Com­mis­sio­ner for Children Act required that the names of the applicants be published so that members of the public could raise objections if they so wished. It was decided to circulate the names for two weeks and final date for raising objections would be 23 October 2019. Only names and surnames would be made known.

The Committee discussed the need to vet candidates but proposed that all further processes be discussed at the 8 September meeting. Members discussed whether the Standing Committee on Social Development would take responsibility for oversight of the Commissioner for Children but could not resolve the matter as oversight is usually conducted by the Committee responsible for the legislation. This legislation had been processed by the Standing Committee for the Premier and Constitutional Development. It was agreed to request a parliamentary research paper on best practices for Commissioners for Children.

Meeting report

The Chairperson explained that the purpose of the meeting was to update Members on the process of the appointment of the Children’s Commissioner. It was an exciting time in the parliamentary life of the Sixth Parliament. Members had just arrived when they had had to dive quite deeply into the process of leading the country in appointing the first Commissioner of Children in South Africa. The process had put the spotlight on the work being done to safeguard children and also to highlight some of the solutions currently in place that cut across the roles of government, civil society and parents.

The Western Cape Com­mis­sio­ner for Children Act  provided for a Children’s Commissioner (CC) that would act as an additional layer to protect children and act as a voice for children. The Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) had done a good job in getting the process to where it was.

The Chairperson explained that advertisements had been placed in the Sunday Times on 15 September 2019, Die Burger on 16 September, the City Vision and Lagunya on 12 September and the Cape Times on 14 September. To ensure a provincial spread the advertisement had also run in the George Herald, the Worcester Standard and the Hermanus Times, as well as the Weslander. In addition, the vacancy was advertised widely on social media sites, including the WCPP site, constituency sites, Members’ own social media sites and the Western Cape Department of Social Development website.

He stated that 60 applications had been received by the time the nomination and application process closed on Monday 30 September 2019. Members had the names of people who could potentially be the first CC in the province. Section 2(2)(b) of the Western Cape Com­mis­sio­ner for Children Act (2019) instructed the Committee to publish the names of all applicants in all three official languages. That would be done using the same newspapers used to advertise the vacancy.

The Chairperson asked the Committee to give permission for the procedural staff to post the advertisement. He asked that Members to consider timeframes for the public to raise objections.

Discussion
Ms L Botha (DA) asked about the timeframes for the list of applicants to be published. She proposed that the Committee give the public three weeks for comments on the names.

Ms W Philander (DA) supported the proposal but asked in what form or medium, such as email, the objections would be lodged because that could have an effect on responses received.

Ms N BakuBaku-Vos (ANC) asked if the Committee could do an oversight visit to other countries that had CCs as the CC was new to South Africa. That would help a lot.

The Chairperson asked her to park that question until the Committee had addressed the process of objections. He noted that the procurement process was very tedious process as supply chain contracts were not yet in place. The procedural staff had to run around to resolve the printing and advertisement quotes. He informed Ms Philander that all objections had to be sent by post or hand delivered to the 4th floor for the Secretary of Parliament. Objections could also be emailed.

Mr Ben Daza, Senior Procedural Officer, stated that he and the legal advisor had discussed a period of two weeks but if the Committee wanted to give three weeks, he did not object. He reminded Members that they had given a two-week period for nominations/applications. He added that as there was no service provider for Parliament, he would have to get three quotes for the advertisement. That would take two or three days.

Ms Philander supported the proposal of a three-week period as the Committee had to ensure that both the procedural staff and the public were given sufficient time. It was the first time that WCPP had conducted such a process.

Ms Botha stated that, in the light of what the Procedural Officer had said, she proposed that the supply chain management (SCM) process be completed by 8 October 2019 so that the media would receive the advertisement on 9 October and members of the public would be given until 30 or 31 October to object.

The Chairperson asked the Committee for approval to advertise a three-week period for objections. The advertisement would get into the print media by 8 October and members of the public and organisations would have until 31 October 2019 to respond. The advertisement calling for objections would also be placed on electronic media as done previously, including the WCPP website and those of local governments.

Mr Romeo Maasdorp, WCPP legal advisor, commented on the objection period. He understood that it was the Committee’s call and the suggestion was three weeks. What had informed his proposal that it be a two-week period was that it would coincide with the time made available for nominations and applications. The process had to be as transparent, open and clinical as possible. There should be no need to explain why there had been a two-week period for applications and three weeks were given for objections. If a three-week period had been given for applications, WCPP might have received more applications. He was also aware that the advertisement had been sent out generally in the newspapers, but also in a very focussed way to interest groups. Two weeks versus three weeks was a negligible difference in time, but he wondered whether the Members would be able to explain the difference if the matter became too hot to handle.

The Chairperson supported the point made by the legal advisor because it made sense, and a two-week period would put less pressure on the timeframe between October and February 2020 when the Commissioner should be operational. The Committee could benefit from the current media attention so he thought that the call should be put out as soon as possible while the matter was fresh in everyone’s minds and the public could review the names and object, if so required. He had answered many calls about applications the previous weekend because people had waited until the last minute to enquire about details about applications and nominations. He changed his proposal to two weeks as that also gave the procedural staff more time to deal with responses. He requested the Committee Members to make the decision.

Ms A Bans (ANC) proposed that the Committee accept the legal advice and keep to a two-week period.

Ms Botha noted that the three weeks had been her proposal and she amended the proposal to two weeks. She suggested that the closing date be 23 October 2019.

The Chairperson appreciated the fact that Ms Botha had amended her proposal. The Committee agreed to allow two weeks for objections to be delivered to WCPP by hand, post or email. He proposed that names and surnames only be published and that they be published in alphabetical order and not in the order received. He noted that it would be important to keep personal details, such as ID numbers, confidential. Members had a copy of all details and that information was confidential. Names would be in the public domain but personal details had to be kept under lock and key.

Ms Botha asked about police clearances, bearing in mind that the person would work with children in the province. Where and when did police clearance happen? Was it the applicants or only shortlisted persons who needed to be cleared?

The Chairperson replied that in his experience it was the shortlist that needed to be processed but he asked the procedural officer to advise. The police clearance process required a person to go to a police station to apply for the clearance certificate and it took around 21 days to obtain the certificate from the Pretoria Central Database. He asked the Senior Procedural Officer and the legal advisor if Parliament had a particular process for vetting applicants or if the process should be left up to the Premier.

Mr Daza replied that it was the first time that WCPP had made such an appointment and so it was a new process and the Committee could decide how it wished to handle the matter but he did not think that the Committee should ask for a police clearance for everyone who had applied. He believed that the process should be decided upon by that Committee.

Ms BakuBaku-Vos suggested that only short-listed candidates be vetted.

Ms R Vindvogel (ANC) asked for clarification as Members had been told there were 60 names but, on the list, there only 59 names.

Mr Daza replied that certain people had applied more than once and the support staff had cleared that up when they had checked the names on the list.

The Chairperson asked that the minutes note that the Committee was giving the procedural staff time to double check that all names and applications were correct and that there were no duplications. He thanked the procedural officers for all the work that they had done in receiving applications, checking them and creating the list of names. It had not been an easy task – over and above their normal duties.

The Chairperson explained that two meetings would be held on 8 October 2019. The first would be to consider the Cluster A report; and the second would be a meeting for the Committee to agree on processes for shortlisting, vetting, interviews for the CC. He agreed that only shortlisted candidates be vetted and he could look into that process before that meeting.  In addition, he wanted to be sure that no applicant appeared on the offenders list for crimes against children.

The Committee agreed.

The Chairperson told Ms BakuBaku-Vos that he would share his research on CC best practice with the Committee including how a CC worked, how oversight worked, etc. He did not know which Committee would be responsible for the CC but it could be the Standing Committee for the Premier and Constitutional Matters. The Act said that it was WCPP’s responsibility, so he was not sure which Committee would have oversight.

Ms BakuBaku-Vos disagreed because the Premier had chosen not to manage the appointment process but had given that responsibility to the Committee for Social Development. The only other possibility was that Cluster A would be responsible for oversight. She was prepared to discuss that matter further.

The Chairperson said the matter would be added to the 8 September meeting agenda when there would be more time and Members would have read through some of the research. He suggested that the Committee pass a resolution asking parliamentary research staff to provide a document on how CCs worked overseas, how oversight worked and where CCs had been successful and unsuccessful.

The Committee agreed with the resolution.

Mr Daza informed Ms BakuBaku-Vos that it was the Speaker who had referred the process to the Committee. One of the responsibilities of a Committee was to monitor its own legislation but the Act had been passed by the Standing Committee on the Premier. It was an unusual situation. He could not say which Committee would have oversight. It was confusing.

The Chairperson stated that everyone would monitor the CC as Members of Parliament and Members had the right to attend any Committee meeting, but he would put the matter on the Cluster A agenda. He thanked all the staff for the work that they had done on the process. He wished Members the best for the work ahead.

The meeting was adjourned.

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