Commission for Gender Equality; Heath Commission; Legal Aid Board: annual overview

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Justice and Correctional Services

16 March 1999
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Meeting report

JUSTICE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE MEETING

JUSTICE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE MEETING
17 March 1999
COMMISSION FOR GENDER EQUALITY; HEATH COMMISSION; LEGAL AID BOARD: ANNUAL OVERVIEW

Documents handed out
Commission for Gender Equality: Copy of Speech
Heath Commission: Summary of Case Recoveries, Savings, and Preventions
Heath Commission: Provisional Financial Statement 1998/1999

Chairperson: Mr J de Lange

MINUTES
Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)
Note: Details of exactly what the Commission has done in the past year can be read in its Annual Report, to be made available next week.

The new chairperson of the Commission, Ms Joyce Seroke, was welcomed. In her address she stated that the Commission has come a long way in recognising what needs to be done about gender inequality, but that this still needs to be put into practice. The other big issue was that the GCE is severely underfunded for the huge and important task that it has.

Ms Morna spoke about the CGE budget. The main problems raised were, firstly, that the CGE is severely under-resourced (the budget for last year was only R4.4 million; this year it has gone up to R11.5 million, which is still not enough). Secondly, the CGE finds it problematic that the system does not allow it to go directly to State Expenditure for money. Instead it has to go the Justice Committee. This potentially interferes with the commission’s independence from the Committee.

Mr de Lange questioned why the Commission felt this was a problem when the Minister had taken a hands-off approach. The Commissioner replied that this was so, and the Minister had been emphatic that he did not want to take any decisions on the Commission’s behalf. However in practice what happens is that – because State Expenditure does not want to hear proposals from all the different commissions linked to Justice – Justice applies for the money all at once and then apportions it itself. It means the Commission has to ask Justice for money, and is accountable to Justice.

Also, this practice means that the money destined for the commission has to go through three different processes before it gets to it, which can take a whole year.

Rough breakdown of how the money is spent at present:
50% salaries *
30% project work
4% capital expenditure
20% operations
(*Public Services has recommended an increase of staff from 42 to 78 members over 3 years, mainly so that the CGE can increase operations.

The CGE submits this should rather be over 5 years, partly so that it can grow in a more measured way, and also because even with increases in budget envisioned for later years – 15 million in 2000 and 23 million in 2002 – there will still be shortfalls.)

Types of operations/projects the money is being spent on
The projects can be organised into 7 categories –
Gender framework and policy development
Public awareness and education
For example, campaigns during Woman’s Week, conference about witchcraft violence last year, production in Kwazulu Natal of a women’s handbook, following research into what women need to know, etc.
Law and Justice
For example, auditing discriminatory legislation, daily investigation of complaints and queries, key research
Safety and security
Economic Empowerment
Political Empowerment
SADC regional involvement

Questions
Where exactly is your money from? How does it get to you?
It goes through the RDP fund to the Justice Department and then to us, so it goes through the government like any government department money. And it takes a long time to get to us.
How well is sharing premises with the Human Rights Commission working out?
It’s working well, and it’s nice to have a single place where people can come with problems. We’re sharing in Cape Town, Petersburg, and soon in Durban; but we don’t share staff. We’re likely to do joint projects in the future.
What specific litigation have you instigated or been involved with?
We’ve taken up some test cases – although this is not expressly in our mandate, we’ve taken it to be implied. Details will be in our annual report (to be available later this week). One example, though, is our (successful) challenge to the Termination of Pregnancy Bill, and we are currently considering challenging the definition of ‘rape’ and also the non-recognition of Muslim marriages.
However, litigation is very expensive.
What research have you done on the issue of equal work for equal pay? Have we achieved this in SA?
Not yet. Various statistics are around, but a recent Wits Business School report suggest women earn about 67% of what men earn for equal work. But the Employment Equity Bill deals with it to some extent.
New legislation like the Domestic Violence Act and the Maintenance Act could remain just words. What are you doing to monitor new legislation, and do you monitor all new legislation?
We’d like to, but can’t since we don’t have the resources. So, we prioritise and then often join up with other groups to monitor important things. For instance, about two million rand has been allocated for implementation of the Domestic Violence Act; but considering how many (especially poor) women are affected by this in South Africa, it’s not nearly enough, so we argue that it needs to be increased.

One thing that is important is that a more concerted attempt needs to be made at local level to monitor these things; also at provincial level, more money should be allocated for implementation of laws. But provincial budgets are often not able to allow for this.

And while we are on the issue of how we make sure the paper becomes something real, another big issue is access to justice; especially the lack of translators, sign language etc in courts. We need to monitor to what extent an ordinary rural woman can go to the police or whatever and have a report about domestic violence or rape taken seriously. It’s a major problem, and we’re aware of it.

Conclusion
Mr de Lange made the point that budgeting is a very difficult matter and that the cutting back that is going on is undesirable.

He also thanked the commission for all its work, and said that he and the Justice Committee are proud of it.

Heath Commission
A big problem for the Commission seems to have been massive delays with regard to the passing of proclamations. Judge Heath was hesitant to answer Mr de Lange’s questions about who exactly was to blame. Mr de Lange was insistent that if corruption had anything to do with these delays, then he would personally see to it that something be done about this. Judge Heath eventually said that many of the delays were with the Justice Department, but that this was often a result of it not having enough people to deal with its huge amounts of work. He agreed to provide Mr de Lange with details of exactly where delays lay and why, and who was responsible.

Judge Heath said that 1998 had been a good year of hard and productive work for the commission; they have had government support as well as a good national and international reception.

The low points had been that proclamations have not always gone through quickly, and also that the commission is severely under-funded. It has asked the government for more money, and has also been invited to approach the United States government and certain multinational companies for assistance.

The fact that its credibility has been questioned has prompted the commission to make available to the public all court orders, acknowledgements of debt, financial statements, etc.

Some examples of recoveries
Recovery of farms in Transkei: R 31 469 500
This involved not only finding the farms (of which the Department of Land Affairs had been unaware), but also doing extensive investigation to determine the legal status of them: were the lease agreements still valid? had the tenant complied with the lease agreement? was rent owed on the farms? what condition were they in?

The amount was "recovered" in as far as the state did not have the value of those farms despite owning them, since it did not know they existed. Now the state can use the farms or rent them out.

2. State owned vehicles
This was an urgent application to attach 372 and then 40 additional vehicles missing from the department of transport. The commission had first launched a strenuous exercise to find the cars. The amount recovered is calculated as the saving made by the state, and not the actual value of the cars, which had deteriorated over the years.

Daily Bread Scheme corruption
This matter was referred to them by a Master of the High Court. The assets of the corrupt trustees were attached.

Legal Aid Board
Initial comments
The CEO (Mr Pretorius) failed to arrive – the reason given was that he had to meet a judge in Johannesburg – and his representative was not in a position to answer questions. A few of the members expressed their strong irritation at his absence, saying that it was both extremely rude and very inconvenient. One of the members suggested the whole report-back be postponed, but Chairperson de Lange decided he would allow for the report now, but questions at a later stage when the CEO is present.

Report
The new board which took office last year has seventeen members and is far more representative in terms of race and gender than the previous board. Their main problem is the limited budget: they were initially allocated R 240 million for the 1999/2000 financial year, but this has been cut to R 233 million. They do have about R 45 million left over from last year, but still this may not be enough and they fear they will run into financial difficulties later in the year.

This is largely because there is an ever-increasing need for legal services by poor people who are entitled to it in terms of the constitution. The Legal Aid Board is trying to decrease the cost per case, but this is not being done fast enough and is difficult to do. Their main solution is going to be to move from a system where legal representatives are mainly from private practices, to a system were representation is provided mainly by salaried lawyers employed by the Board.

Developments have been that seven new offices have been approved: full size ones in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elisabeth and Benoni, and half-sized ones in Ermelo and Pietersburg. They have also opened up 107 new posts, but filling these has been delayed by debates with the transformation team, and tensions between the demands of the Employment Equity Bill and the legitimate expectations of many people currently employed by the board.

One of their major challenges is going to be providing services for people in rural areas.

No questions were taken; this will occur when the CEO is present.

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