Justice Budget: input from Council for Debt Collection, Commission on Gender Equality, South African Human Rights Commission

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Justice and Correctional Services

08 June 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT AD HOC COMMITTEE
9 June 2004
JUSTICE BUDGET: INPUT FROM COUNCIL FOR DEBT COLLECTION, COMMISSION ON GENDER EQUALITY, SOUTH AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

Chairperson:
Ms F Chohan-Kota (ANC)

Documents handed out
Council for Debt Collection (CDC) submission
Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) submission
Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) statistics
South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) submission
Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) Budget Report
Commission for Gender Equality (GCE) Summary
Commission for Gender Equality (GCE) Findings
Commission for Gender Equality (GCE) Plan

SUMMARY
The Council for Debt Collectors reported that it is still a long way away from registering all debt collectors. The Committee wanted to know whether members of the public had lodged complaints against Council members. The Council informed the Committee it had received a few complaints but that most of them were petty and did not call for disciplinary hearings.

The Committee wanted to know why all the Commission for Gender Equality's programmes favoured women as it created the perception that only women were the victims of domestic violence The Committee was informed that the Commission occasionally received complaints from men. Some complaints related to lack of interest by police in domestic violence reports filed by men. The Committee asked the Commission to strive to set up a one-stop shop in conjunction with other related institution to maximise service delivery. The Commission said that it is negotiating with the Public Protector with a view to using some of its offices. The Commission also carries out its workshops and outreach programmes in conjunction with other stakeholders.

The South African Human Rights Commission decried the lack of adequate funding which it said had severely constrained its programmes. The Committee wanted to know the main challenge the Commission had encountered in its work. The Commission said that it has had difficulties in getting institutions that are supposed to file reports with the Commission to do so. The Committee sought to know whether the Commission's mandate applied extra-territorially. The Commission clarified that its mandate is limited to cases within the South African borders. The question of the alleged mercenaries cropped up with the Committee wanting to know whether the Commission is satisfied that the organs of state offer effective service to its nationals abroad. The Commission stated that it has time and again reminded the state that its citizens have a right to quality consular services. The Democratic Alliance was concerned that the Commission seems to be protecting the rights of the majority and not all rights as stipulated in the Constitution. The Commission assured members that it carries out its mandate to protect the rights of all people. Due, however, to limited resources, the Commission often leans towards promoting and protecting the rights of the vulnerable members of society.

Minutes
Adv. Jasper Noeth, Chairperson, and Mr Delof De Meyer, led the team from the CDC. The CEO, Ms Chana Majake, led the delegation from the CGE. It included Joyce Piliso-Seroke, Chairperson, Noah Banda - Chief Financial Officer, Phosa Mashanguane, Head of Administration, Mmtheri Mashao, Head of Legal Services and Gertrude Fester - Commissioner.

Council for Debt Collectors submission
Adv Noeth informed the Committee that debt recovery agencies dealt with the recovery of pre-judgement debts and served as an alternative to the judicial recovery of debt. He noted, however, that as a result of the profession being unregulated, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development received many complaints from members of the public that debtors were allegedly frequently charged with extravagant fees from private intermediaries for payment of their debts. Also, certain persons who acted as debt collectors made use of unacceptable means to collect debts on behalf of their clients. He pointed out that this situation affected mostly the poor who lack the capacity to access the justice system.

Mr Noeth said that, following recommendations by the South African Law Commission, the Debt Collectors Act (1998) was passed by Parliament. He informed the Committee that his Council is not a regulatory body as such. It is a body that was requested by the majority of debt collectors. He added that the Act provides for the exercise of control over the occupation of debt collectors and to legalise the recovery of fees or remuneration by registered debt collectors. This development, he said, differs significantly from the past scenario where a debt collector was not entitled to legally recover any amounts from a debtor. He assured the Committee that the Council would continue to pursue all avenues to force people to either register or stop engaging in debt collecting. He, however, admitted that this is not something that would be achieved overnight. The Council was convinced that it would eventually succeed in its aim to register all debt collectors. Any assistance, which the Committee can render in this regard, would be very much appreciated he said.

Discussion
The Chair asked Adv. Noeth to list the complaints the Council is faced with in order for the Committee to render assistance.

Mr Noeth reported that one of the main challenges facing his organisation is the shortage of staff. The other difficulty relates to the requirement that debt collectors should maintain a trust account and that the accrued interest should go to the creditor. This requirement is rather onerous, especially in view of the fact that other related organisations did not operate in this fashion. He proposed that interest should be credited to the Council. He asked the Committee to consider amending the relevant legislation to accommodate this concern. The other concern is that the playing field in the debt collection scenario is not level. Whilst debt collectors are subject to a strict code of conduct, debt collecting attorneys are not. The Council has been negotiating with attorneys to accept a code of conduct in order to level the playing field. Attorneys in Limpopo Province agreed to adopt the code but decided to exclude some crucial provisions. There were also some shops that hired debt collectors to collect their own debts. These people operated outside the Act. Some operators have in principle agreed to adopt the code but so far they have not done so. The Council has a full staff complement of five which is insufficient considering that its jurisdiction covers the entire country. There was a dire need for extra staff.

The Chair congratulated the Council for performing a sterling job in spite of the difficult circumstances in which they operate. She promised that the Committee would be supportive of the Council's work. She agreed that attorneys' work resembled that of debt collectors and that they needed to subscribe to a code of conduct. This issue would be dealt with when the relevant Act comes before the Committee for amendment. She asked Mr Noeth to indicate whether there were additional obligations on the part of the Council in view of the fact that it performs a public service.

Mr Noeth explained that the Act specifies that the Council must hire a qualified auditor although there is no requirement to submit its financial statements to Parliament. The Chair requested the Council to submit audited reports to the Committee. She expressed hope that some public funds would be allocated to the Council in the near future. She asked the Council to clarify the position on credit bureau referrals and give an indication of how many complaints they had received so far.

Mr Noeth explained that whenever they received complaints from credit bureaux, the affected members of the public were directed to the relevant offices for assistance. The credit bureaux did not fall under the mandate of the Council. He added that most complaints related to people being black-listed before the issuance or expiry of the requisite notice of 28 days.

The Chair wanted to know whether the Council had received complaints with regard to withholding consent. She also wanted to know whether the Council has undertaken any research on what rules and procedures were in place to guide the credit bureau agencies. It is important to deal with the whole question of privacy, she said.

Mr Noeth explained that even where a person is listed, it is important to indicate that the debt is in dispute. Most of these complains are referred to the office of the Ombudsman. He undertook to assist the Committee with information on credit bureaux, but hastened to add that these entities did not fall under the umbrella of the Council. Many people had indeed complained about manner and methods applied by these bureaux in rating debt defaulters. Also, many complaints related to being listed without notification. He felt the Committee was justified in looking at this matter.

The Chair wanted to know whether there were any complaints against debt collectors. Mr Noeth admitted that there were minor complaints. Since most of these complaints were petty, it has not been necessary to set up a disciplinary hearing.

The Chair agreed with the Council that it is important for the message to go out urging debt collectors to register in order to regularise their operations.

Mr Noeth said the Council is considering enlisting the assistance of the South African Police Services to assist with apprehending the culprits. The most problematic people are the cell-phone operators, he felt.

Mr T Delport (DA) decried the practise of cheap credit to poor people who cannot afford to repay. He wondered why there was no remedy to protect the unsuspecting public against such unscrupulous operators. He wanted to know what experience, if any, the Council has had with such characters.

Mr Noeth acknowledged that over-reliance on debt was a serious problem in South Africa. In fact, the South African Law Commission noted in its report on debt collecting that it was clear that the amount of money owed to creditors by defaulting debtors as well as the number of debtors had begun to take on enormous proportions in the country. A culture of defaulting was developing and the large amounts of uncollected debts had a negative effect on the economy and, ultimately, the rate of inflation. According to evidence, the existing culture of default was aggravated by factors such as unemployment, an unfavourable economic climate, the ease with which credit could be obtained and the low deterrent value of statutory provisions aimed at curbing debt. He expressed his sympathy with these people and noted that debt collectors are called upon to be extra-sensitive when executing their obligations.

Mr Swart (ACDP) reported that there were efforts by the Consumer Credit Association and the Law Society of South Africa to make recommendations on the lending system. He inquired whether anything came out of this effort. He noted that the Council has so far had nine cases for prosecution. How strong were these cases, he asked. He also wanted to know whether the Council has looked at legislative amendments to assist the indigent purchaser. He also sought clarity on the law that prohibited the Council from levying interest on the principal amount.

Mr Noeth explained that the Code of Conduct was applicable to all debt collectors. There were ongoing negotiations with attorneys to adopt the same code. Section 20 of the Debt Collectors Act made these provisions. It is often impossible for auditors to calculate the amount of interest since the exercise involves very small amounts.

Mr Landers (ANC) noted that newspapers often ran advertisements urging blacklisted people to seek assistance in delisting their names. He wanted to know whether such services are covered legally.

Mr Noeth said he had not seen the newspaper advertisements. He pointed out, however, that this category of player did not fall under the ambit of the Debt Collectors Act.

Imam Solomon (ANC) wanted to know who determines the fees for debt collectors. He urged the Council to advertise its existence to the general public.

Mr Noeth pointed out that under the Act, the Council was empowered to determine debt collectors' fees. The procedure is for the Council to hold negotiations with relevant stakeholders before making representations to the Minister for approval of the fee structure.

Commission on Gender Equality submission
Ms Majake, CGE Chief Executive Officer, commenced her presentation by noting that the Commission's mandate is to promote respect for gender equality and the protection, development and attainment of gender equality. She then outlined the vision and mission of her Commission. She informed members that the Commission worked for a society free from gender discrimination and all forms of oppression and a society in which people would have the opportunity and means to realise their potential regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, disability or geographic location. She added that it is the mission of the Commission to fulfil its statutory mandate as an independent constitutional body. It would achieve this objective by continuously engaging in co-operative and visible partnerships with stakeholders and supporting democratic processes in South Africa by facilitating gender equality within societal structures as a whole. The Commission would also in the same vein promote, protect, monitor and evaluate gender equality in South Africa.

Ms Philiso-Seroke, CGE Chairperson, noted that women head the Committee and the Department. She said that the Commission was happy and excited with this important development. She looked forward to a fruitful interaction with the Committee in the current parliamentary term. She informed the Committee that the Commission had lost most of its Commissioners. It would be necessary for the Commission to, at a later stage, approach the Committee with a view to replacing the departed Commissioners. The Commission is currently operating with eight out of the maximum of twelve Commissioners.

Discussion
The Chair asked the Commission to in future furnish Members with documents at least seven days in advance. She pointed out that an early submission of documentations reflected positively on the quality of engagement between the Commission and the Committee. She hastened to add that this is a new system and that the Committee would insist on this procedure being followed to the letter in future.

Ms Chana expressed concern that the Commission's report took an inordinately long time to be tabled in Parliament. She assured the Committee that she would take up the matter with the director of chapter nine institutions. She undertook to furnish Members with relevant documentation within the stipulated timeframes in future.

Ms Mahlawe (ANC) asked the Commission to state what challenges they are faced with in the execution of their constitutional mandate.

Ms Chana said that one of the main challenges is the policy of annual salary increments that did not match the budgetary allocations. She added that the other challenge is to reach out to the people in the remotest parts of the country to facilitate education and monitoring. The Commission lacks capacity to achieve this goal. The Commission resorted to community radio to put its message across

Ms Mashao said that one of the key challenge is the inconsistency of court rulings on gender-related cases. This dilutes the available precedents and stifled the work of the Commission. The Commission also lacked capacity to sustain a vigorous litigation regime and the failure by police stations to aggregate cases makes it impossible for the Commission to monitor gender-related complaints.

The Chair asked the Commission to write a short report detailing why it has not been able to create a one-stop shop for effective service delivery. She noted that like the Human Rights Commission, the Commission on Gender Equality did not have an office in the Northern Cape.

Ms Chana said the Commission collaborated with other chapter nine institutions especially around workshops and other outreach programmes.

The Chair begged to disagree. She explained that reference to shared resources did not mean workshops and outreach missions. The Committee was concerned about a one-stop office facility where people can access these institutions' services. The lack of presence in some of the provinces severely constrained the quality of service.

Ms Fester reported that the Commission had commenced negotiations with the Public Protector to utilise some of its office space. No similar overtures have been made to the Human Rights Commission as yet. The Commission used to share office space with the Human Rights Commission in the Western Cape but the latter decided to reclaim it.

Mr Mahlalela (ANC) noted that the Auditor-General had pointed out weaknesses in the Commission's internal control mechanisms. He wanted to know what measures, if any, the Commission had put in place to rectify this problem.

Ms Chana informed the Committee that the National Treasury had raised concerns about personnel expenditure. The problem was that the Commission's personnel was "top-heavy" which was a factor that contributed to an almost entire budget going to salaries at the expense of service delivery. The Commission has a total staff complement of 49 inclusive of the eight Commissioners. The constitutionally-mandated maximum number of Commissioners is twelve. Hence the Commission is currently running at a deficit of four Commissioners. The Secretariat is run by the Chief Executive Officer together with Heads of departments This adds up the number of senior officers. The area of concern is the budget allocation. It is not sufficient as last year's allocation was R17m against the R21m that was requested.

Ms Kholsa (NNP) wanted to know whether donor funding was applied to specific projects and why there were unutilised funds in the budget.

Mr Banda confirmed that donors gave funds for specific projects and that the reason there were unspent funds in the budget is that some of these projects were ongoing and were spread over a period of time.

The Chair asked the Commission to give the Committee a sense of its spending priorities and what its budget figures looked like.

Mr Banda explained that the budget for the previous financial year was R14m, which rose to R17m this year and it is projected to be R21m in the next financial year. The Commission was allocated R21m for its newly opened office. Against the backdrop of all these budgetary constraints, the Commission is plagued by a severe shortage of staff. However, the National Treasury was of the view that the volume of work the Commission undertakes did not justify additional staff. This, they claimed, would unnecessarily add to costs.

The Chair noted that it was important for the Commission to describe its pattern of growth since its inception so that the Committee could have background on its budgeting and programmes. She asked the Commission to prepare a short summary as it was necessary for Members to know why some chapter nine institutions were performing better than others. She observed that some commissioners earned more than others and asked for an explanation.

Ms Mashao reported that the Commission's head office is close to that of the Legal Aid Board and that the latter gave preference to cases referred to it by the Commission. The Board, however, discriminated against men. The Commission is looking at creative ways of dealing with this aspect.

Ms Kholsa wanted to know whether the Commission has the capacity to deal with the question of domestic violence in provinces. She observed that nearly half the cases initiated by the Commission were still pending. She wanted to know why this was the case. She also wanted to know whether the Commission has undertaken any research to determine how much of its submissions to Parliament had been incorporated in legislation.

The Chair agreed with Ms Kholsa that the Commission seems to embark on programmes but then abandons them midstream. She advised that an interface with other role players would be useful. She wanted to know whether the Commission interacts with the Ad Hoc Committee on Social Development.

Ms Mashao said the Commission contracted research on the impact of its programmes. The document was handed to the former deputy minister to deliver to Parliament. The fate of the report is unknown. The Commission plans to launch a number of reports on its research in July. Committee members would be invited to the launch.

The Chair cautioned the Commission to treat Parliament separately from members of the executive. The executive has no obligation to submit reports to Parliament. She further cautioned that given the tight Committee legislative programme it is unlikely that Members could make time for the proposed launch.

Imam Solomon (ANC) noted that all the Commission's programmes favoured women. The perception is created that only women were the victims of domestic violence and maintenance non-payment. This distorted the concept of gender equality.

Ms Mashao reported that the Commission occasionally receive and in fact deals with complaints from men. Some of the complainants referred to a lack of interest by police in domestic violence cases filed by men.


South African Human Rights Commission submission
Commissioner Jody Kollapen led the SAHRC delegation. Other Commissioners present were Prof. Kathy Govender, Mr Leon Wessels, Mr Tom Manthata and the Chief Executive Officer, Ms Zonke Mokate.

Commissioner Jody Kollapen, Chairperson of the SAHRC, informed the Committee that the Commission sees its relationship with Parliament as critical to how it discharged its mandate and remained accountable. The Commission values its independence but interprets it as meaning that it should relate in a healthy way to organs of state and civil society. This independence did not mean that the Commission functions in an insular fashion. The task of building a culture of human rights is the collective responsibility of all South Africans. The Commission is committed to working with all who share this vision. He noted that after the current Commissioners were appointed by the President and took office in September 2002, the Commission set clear objectives for itself.

Mr Kollapen continued that the Commission decided that its main focus areas would be the achievement of equality and the use of its social-economic rights mandate to eradicate poverty. In addition it would undertake the specific tasks that legislation allocate to it. The Commission, in addition, identified the issue of forming and nurturing relationships with Parliament, with the Executive, with civil society and importantly with the communities it serves as important. The Commission has successfully used the Equality Act and equality courts to resolve individual cases. This is to ensure that the equality courts become functional and to use it as a vehicle for education and inculcating social behaviour consistent with the values in the Constitution.

Mr Kollapen said that while the number of cases reaching the Courts was still rather low, the Commission has been involved in most of them. The Commission eagerly awaits the finalisation of the Equality Act regulations. The Commission noted that there remains considerable work to be done from this perspective. He assured the Committee that the Commission would remain loyal to the mandate that the Constitution gave it. It would continue to strive to be an institution that is relevant in the lives of ordinary South Africans. The Commission, he added, would remain an institution that is in touch with the pulse and heartbeat of the nation.

Discussion
The Chair wanted to know what difficulties, if any, the Commission had to deal with in its programme rollout work.

Ms Mokate informed the Committee that the Commission has had difficulty in getting reports from persons and institutions that are legally bound to file such reports with it.

Mr Jeffrey (ANC) said that the Auditor-General had raised an audit query in the March 2003 audit report that the internal audit machinery was not functioning well. He wanted to know whether the Commission had taken steps to rectify this problem. He noted that the Commission received some money from donors last year and wondered why there was no such facility this financial year. He wanted to know why, in view of the limited resources, chapter nine institutions had not designed a plan to set up a one-stop shop in provincial centres to share resources and be easily accessible to the general public.

Ms Mokate acknowledged that the Auditor-General had indeed raised concerns regarding the internal audit machinery. This work had been out-sourced by the Commission to a service provider who did a shoddy job. This service provider has since been dropped and the internal audit machinery is now in order. Donors allocate funds to specific projects and not for general use. The problem is that donors do not provide personnel for the projects they fund. This means the Commission has to draw from its limited staff complement to undertake work on donor funded projects. There was no donor funding for this financial year. The one stop shop plan had been tried before on office sharing. The plan was also applied on a project-by-project basis whenever possible. This was done in an effort to try and share the available resources such as hosting workshops together and running outreach programmes in conjunction with other like-minded stakeholders.

Imam Solomon (ANC) noted that the Commission had requested R40m but instead received R38m for its budget. He wanted to know whether the Commission was satisfied that it would fulfil its constitutional mandate with the current budget allocation.

Ms Mokate said that the Commission tries its best to operate within the confines of the budgetary allocations. There were just too many projects to be implemented that the budget allocation paled in the face of the massive needs. There are many cases, which require investigation and subsequent reporting to the Committee, but this does not happen due mainly to lack of resources.

Mr Mahlalela (ANC) wanted to know why the Commission allocates such a large amount to salaries and how this affected the rollout of its programmes.

Ms Mokate explained that the Commission has a large Human Resource unit in addition to the Finance and Administration units, which all together take about 23% of the budget. Then there is the office of the Chief Executive Officer and a unit for staff development. It is true that the extensive areas covered by management draws heavily from the budget. The scenario is, however, unavoidable.

Ms Camerer said that the Commission operates on the basis of shortfalls, noting that a shortfall of R5m was reflected in its books. She wanted to know how the Commission deals with such shortfalls. She also noted that the Commission enthusiastically takes up cases but drops them midstream. She gave the example of the case of prisoners, which remains pending to date. She wanted to know why the Commission does not take up these cases on an ongoing basis.

Ms Mokate clarified that the Commission does not operate on a shortfall as such. To the contrary, the R5m reflected in the budget only gives an indication of what the Commission would like to do had it been given the requisite funds. In any case, the PMFA forbids operating on a shortfall. Mr Kollapen informed Members that the Commission has entered into an understanding with the Inspector-General of Prisons, Judge Fagan, which seems to be working well. This is why the Commission has taken a back seat in this area. The Commission is, however, entitled to carry out inspections whenever it so wishes. Comm. Govender said that due to lack of resources the Commission is at times forced to temporarily keep some cases and programmes in abeyance. This is merely a tactical retreat and does not in any way mean that the Commission has abandoned its resolve to pursue such matters.

Ms Mahlawe (ANC) wanted to know the kind of training the Commission runs in provinces and whether provinces account to the Commission in this regard.

Ms Mokate explained that provincial satellite offices report to the head office. Provincial operations are budgeted for at the head office. Training programmes are part and parcel of the head office's general operations. The problem is that the provincial budget far lower than what it should be.

The Chair asked the Commission to explain what it wanted to accomplish with the current budgetary allocation. She agreed with Imam Solomon that there appeared to be no sense of balance between personnel expenditure and money allocated for service delivery.

Mr Kollapen said the Commission had requested more funding in order to carry out more work on the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The Chair pointed out that the question of collaboration among the chapter nine institutions had not moved for the past ten years. It is clear that more work needs to be undertaken in this area of concern. Mr Jeffrey agreed with the Chair. He asked the Commission to prepare a report on what efforts it had made to promote collaboration and what problems it had encountered thus far.

Dr Delport (DA) said that chapter nine institutions should not only be independent but must be perceived to be so. He wondered why the Commission has yet to deal with the right to life. There are incidences of impediments to free trade; lack of protection of ownership of property and the whole concept of equality has been perverted. There is also the question of discrimination that is practiced in the Labour Court under the banner of affirmative action. The Commission should be seen to protect all rights and not just the rights of the majority.

Mr Kollapen said that Dr Delport had raised wide and diverse issues. He assured him that the Commission promotes the rights of all South Africans. The Commission ruled the slogan "kill the farmer, kill the boer" to be hate speech. This shows that the Commission strives to articulate the other side. The Commission recently invited the Freedom Front to its equality indaba where the party was allowed to address the meeting. The Commission lacks capacity to deal with many other deserving issues. The Commission, due to limited resources, tends to lean toward protecting the most vulnerable members of society.

Mr Swart (ACDP) said that the Commission is faced with numerous difficulties in the performance of its work. He however wondered why the Commission does not approach relevant parliamentary committees to assist in their areas of influence. He sited the case of the Lindela camp, which he said keeps recurring and wondered whether the Commission has tried to take up the matter with the Ad Hoc on Home Affairs. He also wanted to know whether the Commission is empowered to operate extra-territorially. The case of the alleged mercenaries imprisoned in Zimbabwe is an area where the Commission can help.

Mr Kollapen said the Commission has a national mandate. It cannot, therefore, interfere in the internal affairs of another country. Comm. Govender confirmed that the Commission engaged relevant Committees whenever such a need arose. He referred to the Immigration Act where the Commission made an input by way of its submissions during public hearings. The Commission has repeatedly invited the Home Affairs Committee to the Lindela camp but the Committee cancelled this visit at the last minute. The Commission is still in consultations with Home Affairs with regard to the rights of foreign nationals.

Ms Camerer noted that the Commission's strategic and key objectives are more or less the same. Some priorities did not relate. She wanted to know how the Commission co-ordinates its programmes. The hate speech issue related to the Equality Act, but there is a new Bill in the pipeline on hate speech. She asked the Commission to comment on this development.

Mr Jeffrey wanted to know which languages the Commission use as a medium of communication in its publications. He also wanted details on what happens to some of the complaints lodged with the Commission.

Mr Kollapen said that the Commission strives to communicate its publications in all eleven official languages, but that whenever there is a shortfall of funds some documents are published in English only, which is the most widely spoken language.

Imam Solomon noted that the Commission's key mandate was that of social economic rights which comes down to the alleviation of poverty. He wanted to know how far the Commission has gone to realise this objective other than to highlight the issue.

Comm. Mathata said that poverty is a very broad subject. The Commission's approach has been to talk to communities in order to understand what assistance they need. It also encourages communities to approach specific departments for services due to them. The best way to deal with this massive problem is to involve communities in creating awareness. The Commission has time and again suggested amendments to the Equality Act in order to create a broader legal framework to deal with poverty but this request has not been heeded so far.

Mr Landers referred to the case of the alleged mercenaries and the whole question of South Africans held in foreign prisons; in particular the South African woman who was executed in Botswana. He wanted to know whether the Commission is satisfied that the state plays a proper role in providing consular services to South Africans in foreign countries and whether such services sufficiently protect the interests of the citizens.

Mr Kollapen reiterated that the Commission lacks extra-territorial powers to interfere in domestic affairs of other states. The Commission, however, constantly engages the government at a limited level on foreign issues. The Commission holds the position that South Africans are entitled to the support of their government including the provision of consular services

The Chair wanted to know how the equality courts were doing. It was important for the Commission to strive to build a precedent base for future recourse in these courts. She also wanted to know the situation with regard to the complaints backlog and how the Commission is handling this.

Mr Kollapen said that equality courts are friendlier, simpler and therefore make it easier to prosecute cases. The success rate is much higher than is the case with ordinary courts. Unlike other NGOs, the Commission has the power of subpoena and inquest. These wide powers helped to expedite the caseload. The process of mediation yields another quota of results. It is important for the Commission to capitalise on what makes it unique. Comm. Govender revealed that the Commission has commenced the process of collating data on the manner in which it deals with complaints. This database is posted on the Commission's website.

The Chair asked the Commission to compile a report on its experiences with the equality court and submit it to the Committee for review.

The meeting was adjourned.

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