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CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW COMMITTEE
23 August 2001
CONSIDERATION OF SUBMISSIONS BY SUBCOMMITTEE
Documents handed out: None
The subcommittee discussed how to deal with the submissions received from the public as the bulk of submissions were in fact irrelevant to the Constitution. They decided that an administrative staff could sift through the submissions and present the subcommittee with only the relevant submissions for discussion. The subcommittee would then report to Parliament.
The Chair asked members to suggest how to deal with the submissions. He assumed that everyone was familiar with the content of the submissions.
Ms S Camerer (NNP) said that the Chair could accept that the documents had been read but pointed out that most of the submissions bore no relevance to the Constitution. A popular misconception was that the right to bear arms is part of our Constitution. This gave rise to many unnecessary submissions from the firearms control lobby. She added that this issue needs to be tackled as it had provoked so much interest. In fact she added that it might even require a statement from the Chair on the issue.
The Chair replied that the misconceptions in the submissions had been pointed out in an earlier meeting. With regard to the firearms issue, this is just one example of the submissions received and should not be singled out just because a certain well-resourced lobby was able to bombard the committee with submissions. There are many other areas of concern although some people may not have been as well-resourced and were therefore not able to make as much of an impact. However, this all highlights the need for constitutional education. The Chair asked the subcommittee to suggest a way forward.
Mr P Smith (IFP) said that one had to look at what the Committee's intentions had been when asking for submissions. More than twenty amendments were being dealt with by the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Affairs which had never been dealt with by this Committee. There appeared to be a completely separate process taking place here.
Mr C Eglin (DP) agreed saying that those amendments should first have been dealt with by the Constitutional Review Committee before going to the Portfolio Committees.
Ms Camerer suggested a way forward in that the submissions were a response to the advertisement placed by the Committee. It had been a very valuable method of taking the pulse of the community. Many people were however asking for legislative amendments which had nothing to do with the Constitution. The Committee could choose either to dismiss them as being irrelevant or act as a channel by referring them to the relevant Ministry. The Committee could also correct misconceptions in order for them to make more meaningful contributions next year.
Mr Eglin agreed. Where an issue could be dealt with by legislation but does have constitutional elements (such as the firearms issue), people could be informed that this issue may also best be dealt with in legislation. The Committee could then deal with issues which are only constitutional in nature.
The Chair pointed out that where the Committee had received a large number of submissions on a particular issue, this may be significant in determining where public concern lies. On the other hand it only reflects the concerns of certain literate and well-resourced individuals or groups. The numbers however may not indicate, for example, the opinion of the general public on the right to bear arms.
The Chair stated that when placing the advertisement, the Committee had expected that there would be submissions that were irrelevant to the Constitution. They had not however anticipated that the vast majority would be irrelevant. There was in fact only one submission that was seriously constitutional and this was from the Free Market Foundation. As this is a very legitimate concern the Committee will have to deal with it. The problem is that this group represents no more than a few thousand people and is definitely not representative of the concerns of the general population. One has to take into account that many people do not have the resources to come to Parliament to express their opinions and it might be necessary for the Committee to conduct visits to under-resourced areas.
Mr Smith suggested that the Committee decide the relevance of submissions on the basis of a two-thirds majority. Perhaps this could be discussed in the different parties first.
The Chair asked if Mr Smith was suggesting a party political approach or should they approach it as members of the subcommittee first and then present it to the Committee (which consists of members of the different parties).
Mr Smith suggested that it could be done on an individual basis at first.
Mr Eglin felt that the original sifting process should be conducted by an administrative staff and could then be checked by subcommittee members. He disagreed with the approach suggested by Mr Smith. Instead of the political parties discussing the matter first it should go to Parliament first.
Mr G Solomon (ANC) said that one should guard against this becoming a forum for expressing fundamental differences with regard to party political views. With regard to the amendments being dealt with by the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Affairs these should have come before the Constitutional Review Committee first even though many of these are technical amendments.
Ms Camerer said that the firearms control lobby were a strong body and should be treated with the necessary respect. The Committee should at least contact them to explain the reason that this was not the correct forum to deal with their issue, as they had taken the time and effort to respond to the advertisement.
The Chair agreed that a response was necessary. However one should look at what the Committee would have done had even a third of the population responded. It would then have been impossible to respond to each submission. The Chair felt that it was unwise to set such a practice in motion. However, since a response was obviously necessary the Committee could consider placing another advertisement in response to the submissions. An administrative staff could sift through the submissions after which the Committee could discuss the remaining submissions. They could then report to Parliament early in September.
The meeting was adjourned.
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