South African Board of Sheriffs: briefing

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Justice and Correctional Services

14 June 2004
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Meeting report


14 June 2004

Mr F Chohan-Kota (ANC)

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South African Board of Sheriffs presentation

The South African Board of Sheriffs is keen to build a transformed, professional, publicly accountable and credible sheriffs' institution, which reflects the human rights culture of the Constitution. The core business of the Board is to transform the sheriff's profession, the Board itself and its staff and to bring it in line with constitutional imperatives. The Committee was however unhappy with the slow pace of transformation in this industry. The Committee advised the Board to identify legislative impediments to transformation and hasten the process of legislative reform. The Board said that it has transformed to such an extent that it merits access to funding from the Ministry and the Department. The Board appealed to the Committee to support its endeavour to fast-track the proposed legislative changes and access the said funding.

South African Board of Sheriffs submission
Ms Zodwa Nduna, Chairperson of the South African Board of Sheriffs (Board), informed the Committee that the mission of the Board is to provide professional and credible services to all its clients and other stakeholders. It also seeks to develop skilled, knowledgeable and motivated staff in addition to developing a unified and committed Board with focused leadership. The Board strives to conduct all its activities and execute its mandate in a manner that is accountable to the public and to the government. In the main the Board's aim is to enhance the image and goodwill of the sheriffs' profession. Its core business is to transform the sheriff's profession, the board itself and its staff and to bring it in line with constitutional imperatives. The Board would review its enabling legislation and all other relevant legislation, amongst others the Sheriff's Act 90 of 1986, and if necessary lobby for reform in the manner which protects the interest of the sheriffs' profession and all stakeholders. The Board disciplines and monitors the conduct of all sheriffs whilst communicating with all stakeholders and sheriffs with a view to promote professionalism in the industry.

Ms Nduna noted that sheriffs were not public servants. The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development in terms of the Sheriffs Act nevertheless appoints them. In line with the new order and dispensation, the sheriffs' profession had to transform both in terms of service delivery as well as its composition. She reported that a transformed Board was now in place to manage the transformation process in an effective and efficient fashion. The Board has articulated strategic plans for the organisation for the next three years, which in turn will deepen and advance the transformation process of the profession. The dominant culture of inequality still prevails in the profession. Affirmative action appointments could only be implemented effectively once a core group of previously disadvantaged prospective sheriffs is trained and the appropriate legislation is in place. The current legislation restricts the momentum of transformation in that sheriffs, who were appointed before 1990, would only retire at the age of 70. Another factor retarding the appointment of previously disadvantaged individuals (PDIs) is the Department's decision to combine high and lower court sheriffs' office into a single appointment. She concluded that given the merits of the transformed roles and functions of the SABFS, the Board would appreciate the support of the Committee in its endeavour to fast-track the proposed legislative changes and access funding from the Ministry and the Department.

The Chair wanted to know the percentage of levies the Board receives from its membership fee. Mr Maluleke replied that the Board is 100% member funded. The Chair then noted that the Board is a recipient of donor funding.

Mr Maluleke, a Board member, explained that donor funding is targeted to specific projects and so the facility is not open to general application by the Board.

Ms Veliswa Baduza, the Board's Chief Executive Officer, informed the Committee that in the 2003/04 financial year, the Board collected a sum of R1.9 million from its membership fees. The donor funds that were made to the Board totalled R12 million in the same period. This donor facility is however coming to an end.

The Chair asked the Board to give an indication of the nature of assistance it would require from the Department and what programmes it intends to roll-out in this regard. She also wanted to know whether the Board subjects its budget to an annual audit.

Mr Maluleke said that the Board would ask for an additional R2 million from the Department to enable it to run training programmes for its members, advance the goals of transformation and strengthen its personnel component. He reported that the Board is currently faced with serious personnel shortage. He confirmed that the Board's books are audited annually but that since it is not publicly funded, the audit report is not submitted to Standing Committee on Public Accounts in Parliament.

The Chair advised the Board to ensure that it submits its audit reports to this Committee in future. This was necessitated by the fact that it performs a public function. Ms Baduza clarified that in fact these reports form part of the Board submission to the Committee.

The Chair was concerned that transformation in the industry was moving at a disappointingly slow pace. She pointed out that ever since she started sitting on the Committee, the question of transformation in the industry has never been resolved and keeps popping up.

Mr Fourie, a Board member, said that there were many factors among them structural, historical and operational that impeded the speed of transformation in the industry. He added that the problem is compounded by the fact that the main players in the appointment of the Sheriff are the local magistrate, the local attorney and a member of the community. This scenario conjures up images of a close neat syndicate, which is difficult to break. He noted for instance that sheriffs once appointed would hold office until the age of 70 or until they resign, retire or die. Mr Fortune, a Board member, added that the Board has for many years pleaded to be allowed to sit on this appointment committee to no avail. This remedy, he said, was the only way through which the Board could influence transformation imperatives.

Mr Maluleke informed the Committee that the Board has on several occasions engaged the Department on its frustration and all it has received are unfulfilled promises that something would be done. Ms Baduza reported that the Board is aware that 14 sheriffs are due for retirement this year. It is however the duty of the local magistrate to notify the Department before such vacancies are put up for advertisements. The process, she said, is fraught with bureaucratic hurdles and is secretive to the extent that the message does not spread wide enough for possible candidates to put in an application. There was a need to widely circulate vacancy notices instead of the present system of posting the notice at the local magistrate's courthouse. There was also a need for interviews to be conducted at the provincial level to avoid the closed circuit activities at the local magistrate's regional office. The process as currently structured remains an in-house business and there was a need for the Board to intervene.

Mr Fourie said that the Board favours a method where these advertisements are circulated to its membership countrywide. It is instructive to note that the Department fails to put up appropriate advertisements. This disputes the fact that it budgets for them.

The Chair acknowledged the Board's predicament and called for rapid measures to change the relevant regulations in order to create the right legal environment for transformation to take effect.

Mr Landers (ANC) wanted to know how community representatives are appointed and whether there was a set criterion for that kind of appointment.

Ms Nduna replied that there was no set criteria for the appointment of a community representative noting that such appointments are done at the discretion of the local magistrate.

The Chair objected to this manner of appointment. She said that at the end of the day the people appointed are those that are known to the appointing authority. In any case this is not the magistrate's core business. There was a need to find mechanisms to address these peculiar problems. It is apparent that the issue of transformation would only be effectively tackled at the highest level possible. She noted the absence of transformative moves especially in the area of gender balance. She added that the many good programmes the Board has been running would come to naught without the feature of transformation.

Imam Solomon (ANC) expressed the view that the lack of movement on transformation in the industry seems to stem from the fact that the Department has not shown interest in the Board's work. It is time the Department started taking keen interest in the Board's mandate. It is important for the Department to recognise the fact that the sheriff industry is an integral part of the civil justice system. The way matters stand at present is that the Board has been left to its own devices for far too long. The Minister has powers to open up the industry to transformation.

The Chair said that transformation efforts would not achieve much if the right candidates were not identified. There was a need to go back to the drawing table in order to put the right fundamentals in place first. It is important for people to understand the sheriff profession as a career and not some passage to some other pursuits.

Ms Baduza assured the Committee that the Board shared its concerns on the slow pace of transformation. She agreed with the Chair that it is at times hard to identify suitable candidates. She also agreed with members' concern on the Department's hands-off policy. The Board needs to be given its rightful recognition. The lack of recognition by the Department is bad for staff morale.

The Chair wanted to know what the Board regards as ideal criteria for transformation to take place.

Mr Fourie replied the important factor is qualification and experience but that the Board would like to be allowed to put in some recommendations in this regard. Ms Nduna said it is sufficient for a person to show potential and a keen interest to learn. This relaxed approach would help to bring in historically disadvantaged groups.

The Chair agreed with this assessment and noted that there was no need for one to be an attorney to qualify for the office of a sheriff. It is enough for the applicant to show business acumen and drive.

Ms Nduna said that the practical problem facing potential applicants is the issue of set-up capital. She added that this handicap has often forced people to front white sheriffs The Chair said that this problem should be addressed through soft loans from commercial banks. The Department of Trade and Industry has offered to assist small entrepreneurs with start-up capital.

Ms Baduza said that some of the interviews for the appointment of sheriffs are downright unfair. People are at times asked to explain their understanding of the Sheriff's Act and how much money they have in the bank. Other important options are ignored. These interview mechanisms are too draconian for prospective applicants. There was a need to look at other options.

The Chair said the Committee would facilitate the process of legislative reform. She asked the Board to work on draft legislation and present it to the Committee. The issue of loans was very pertinent. It was also important for applicants to possess some business management skills. This brings into focus the question of skills development.

Mr Fourie confirmed that skills development was one of the Boards' mandate. The Board hopes to build a pool of skilled people from where future sheriffs would be drawn.

The Chair asked the Board to freeze the available vacancies until appropriate amendments to the law have been pushed through to pave the way for transformation. She wanted to know what challenges, if any, the Board is faced with in its work.

Ms Baduza replied they have had instances where white females have challenged the Board for recommending black males. The Board has so far had four disciplinary cases, three of which fell by the wayside, and the other one was accordingly dealt with.

Mr Bici (UDM) referred to the statistical spread of sheriffs throughout the country and wanted to know why there was a high concentration of sheriffs in the Eastern Cape.

Mr Makwetu, a Board member, replied that the Eastern Cape was leading transformation in the industry especially with women sheriffs penetrating the profession.

Mr Landers said that it seemed the sins of the Board's predecessors are being visited on the current team. In the olden times sheriffs were such a powerful institution that to touch them was unheard of. He noted that the Board's disciplinary mechanism was still very weak. He pointed to the widely publicised incident in Prince Albert where some sheriffs committed some very nasty acts. The South African Human Right Commission has in fact singled out these incidences for harsh condemnation.

Ms Nduna said the Prince Albert incident was wide spread and the Board is taking statements from affected people before appropriate action is taken. The court ordered that the Board should be supplied with copies of proceedings but this edict has not been complied with to date.

The Chair asked the Board to file a report on the incident with the Committee once it winds up its investigations.

The meeting was adjourned.


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