Kellerman Petition: discussion and finalisation

Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

14 March 2006

Chairperson: Ms M Mentor (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Memorandum from Legal Services Office 7 February 2005
Notes on Special Petitions (K Hahndiek, 14 March 2006)

The Secretary to the National Assembly briefed Members about similar precedents to Parliament’s handling of Ms Kellerman’s petition. The petition had initially been presented by Mr D Gibson (DA) on 15 November 2005. The Secretary to the National Assembly said there had been legal precedents, and promised to update a pre-1994 manual on the issue for Members.

Essentially the case revolved around an inadequate widow’s pension. Advocate Kellerman had worked for the state for many years, then broke service to study further, but had worked for nobody else. The position was now that his widow’s pension was much smaller simply because he broke service in order to study for his Masters degree. His widow was now suffering as a result.

Although the Committee was keen not to ‘open the floodgates’ to similar requests, it sympathised strongly with this particular petition. However, Members were only able to make a positive informal decision, as there was no quorum present. The Committee reconvened later that afternoon to formally approve the petition.

There was no Member quorum but on the suggestion of the Chairperson, it was agreed to go ahead with the discussion anyway. The Chairperson apologised that the meeting scheduled for the previous week had been cancelled due to staff problems. Staff would write a letter of apology and this would not happen again.

Members had heard Ms Kellerman’s petition on 15 November 2005, when Mr D Gibson (DA) had presented it. There had subsequently been communication with Mr K Hahndiek (Secretary to the National Assembly) on 1) whether there had been a precedent of a similar case; and 2) whether, if the Committee agreed to the petition, it would be ‘opening the floodgates’ to similar requests. While Mr Gibson had written to the Speaker’s Office a day after the meeting last year, it had taken a long time for the Speaker’s Office to bring this to Mr Hahndiek’s attention.

Mr Hahndiek then reported that research had been done into this complex issue, but more research was required. A record of Private Persons Petitions since 1996 had been circulated and he confirmed that there had been some occasions when, on the basis of recommendation by the Committee, the petition approved had followed by a Bill released by the Minister of Finance. The Constitution specifically provided for the National Assembly to receive petitions and committed Parliament to be responsive to the needs of the public.

Mr Hahndiek had spoken to the Legal Services Office and developed a detailed manual that would assist Members to perform these functions. He had been given a pre-1994 manual and would bring it up to date and make this available to the Committee. ‘Petitions of a General Nature’ referred to in the document were flexible and the Committee was not involved in such petitions. Protocol was that, wherever possible, there should be a formal response to any petitions.

Mr A Ainslie (ANC) commented that that had been a very useful exercise, not only to this specific case, but also in relation to the work of the Committee. It was good to look at the procedure and what criteria had developed over time regarding these issues. The manual was an excellent suggestion and could only assist in the work of the Committee. The Chairperson fully agreed.

The Chairperson continued that the Committee had been communicating with the Department of Public Service and Administration and should be receiving the report from the Department as well on whether this would set a precendent and create a deluge of similar petitions. Often correspondence took three months, and the Committee was still waiting for a response on several matters from various departments. Regarding the National Council of Province’s (NCOP) processes, even if the petition went to the NCOP, it would be very late for a Money Bill. It seemed there was a heavy expectation that Members ‘sponsor’ petitions. The NCOP had a Select Committee of Private Members Special Petitions, and the Chairperson was Mr Adams.

Mr Ainslie referred back to Ms Kellerman’s position and the vetting process. According to the Kellerman petition document, Mr Gibson did not sign the original document. Surely that should have been picked up in a vetting process? Mr Hahndiek recalled the Kellerman petition coming in with a covering letter with Mr Gibson’s signature, and it had been approved on that basis.

Mr C Lowe (DA) responded that it was unfortunate that Mr Gibson was not at the meeting, as the latter was not sure what he should do as a Member. At the time, the petition had been signed by Mrs Kellerman but not by Mr Gibson. Subsequently Mr Gibson had signed the petition. The petition submitted to Parliament thus carried the signatures of both Mr Gibson and Mrs Kellerman. For the new permanent staff, some training should be provided regarding submitting future petitions.

Mr Lowe related the unfortunate situation of the man who had worked for the state for many years, broke service to study further but had worked for nobody else in his whole life. The position was now that his widow’s pension was much smaller simply because he broke service in order to study for his Masters degree. He would ask that the petition be granted, as these were very special circumstances. He agreed the Committee should however be very careful not to ‘open the floodgates’. The late Advocate Kellerman had sacrificed to study for the benefit of the State, which actually would have left a far greater pension to his widow. He felt very strongly about Mrs Kellerman’s special circumstances.

Mr Ainslie was very sympathetic and agreed that there were exceptional circumstances. These petitions were granted when all other avenues had been exhausted. The Department had also been involved and the last avenue was Parliament. They needed to urgently update the manual. Ms S Rajbally (MF) agreed.

The Chairperson was also very sympathetic on this matter, and wished to persuade the Committee to act on this request. However, as there was no quorum, they could only make recommendation.

Mr Lowe was pleased, and urged the Committee to at least take an informal decision, or else the situation could go on for months to Ms Kellerman’s detriment.

Mr Gerber (IFP) submitted that this Committee had always had a problem achieving a quorum on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. With the permission of the Speaker, he suggested Members met over lunchtime on Wednesdays when there was more time available.

Mr Ainslie agreed that an informal decision should be taken on the matter, that respective parties be briefed, and that they take a formal decision later that afternoon. The Chairperson asked each person present to bring one Member, according to the number per party on the Committee list, as there had to be a quorum at that meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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