A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.
SECURITY AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS SELECT
1 November 2006
FIREARMS CONTROL AMENDMENT BILL DELIBERATIONS; PROHIBITION OF MERCENARY ACTIVITIES AND REGULATION OF CERTAIN ACTIVITIES IN COUNTRY OF ARMED CONFLICT BILL ADOPTION
Chairperson: Kgoshi L Mokoena
Documents handed out:
Firearms Control Amendment Bill [B12-2006]
Firearms Control Amendment Bill Presentation on Public Input
The Department of Defence and the South African Police Service briefed the Committee on the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities and Regulation of Certain Activities in Country of Armed Conflict Bill and the Firearms Control Amendment Bill. The Committee, after addressing some of the outstanding issues related to it, adopted the Prohibition of Mercenary Activities and Regulation of Certain Activities in Country of Armed Conflict Bill. The DA did not support the Bill, and FF+, although supporting the motion of desirability, did not support the amendments proposed.
The South African Police Service took the Committee through some of the comments and suggestions that had been made during the public hearings on the Firearms Amendment Bill. They detailed in particular the provisions relating to muzzle loaders, the concerns over defunct security companies, the new definitions, the protection where applicants for licences were subject to orders under the Domestic Violence Act, and the distinction between audits and relicensing procedures proposed. Members of the Committee were particularly anxious about the requirements of the competency certificate and the long time it took to finalise applications for new licences as well as for renewals, which might cause people to opt rather for illegal obtaining of firearms. Questions were raised on firearm-free and gun-free zones, the number of outstanding licence applications, inherited firearms, and imitation firearms. The requirements for competency certificates, the training process, and the procedure to obtain a licence were clarified and the Department assured members that provided there were no delays, the application process could take as little as six months. The Bill would be debated finally on 15 November and the Members agreed to formally adopt it during their forthcoming visit to the Free State. The DA indicated that it would not be supporting the Bill, and the FF+ indicated that although they supported the certificate of competency, they did not support other provisions of the Bill.
The Committee discussed the forthcoming provincial visits, and would try to set them for the week of 20 November.
Prohibition of Mercenary Activities and Regulation of Certain Activities in Country of Armed Conflict Bill: Adoption
The Chairperson noted that at the last meeting on the Bill the Freedom Front Plus and the Democratic Alliance had indicated that they would return to their parties to caucus. He opened the floor for comments and proposals for amendments.
Mr J Le Roux (DA Eastern Cape)) said that unfortunately the DA did not have a mandate to support the Bill due to the fact that people who had lost their jobs and livelihoods would now have difficulty or perhaps find it impossible to sell their skills in armies across the world. He added that obviously the DA did not support mercenary activity and would assist to stop such activities. It was unfortunate that the proposed legislation would impact negatively on the livelihoods of some South Africans.
The Chairperson said that although there were differences in opinion the DA’s view would be respected.
Dr F van Heerden (FFP Free State) said that at the last meeting he had agreed to the motion of desirability because like the DA his party too were against mercenary activity. His party’s amendment related to Clause 4, which proposed the prohibition and regulation of enlistment of South Africans in armed forces through a process of authorisation. Freedom Front Plus felt that a process of registration was preferable to one of authorisation. They felt that this proposed amendment was viable. He gathered from the last deliberations on this point that this amendment and the consequent amendments were not acceptable. He explained that FF+ did not agree with the principle that authorisation was needed to perform an occupation. They based their objections on the Constitutional provision regarding the freedom to follow a particular occupation. They proposed a registration process similar to the one that applied to lawyers, accountants, engineers, and other professions. The FFP although they supported the motion of desirability, would vote against the proposed legislation.
The Chairperson said that this view would also be respected. He asked whether the members from the ANC had any comments.
Mr S Shiceka (ANC Gauteng) said that the ANC supported the Bill because it advanced South Africa’s foreign policy and would ensure that South Africa spoke with “moral high ground” in multi- as well as bilateral forums. He said that this was particularly important now that South Africa had been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations’ Security Council. The ANC believed that the legislation would also assist in mitigating against situations whereby South Africans would stand on different sides, killing and maiming each other, in the pursuit of money. He added that the ANC had raised one particular concern related to the possibility of improving the confiscation of the proceeds of mercenary activities.
Mr A Moseki (ANC-North West) said that Mr Shiceka had adequately covered the ANC’s position. The party’s view on the legislation was very clear. South Africa was a developing democracy and needed to make a contribution to ensure that peace prevailed not at home but on the entire continent, and the world. The ANC felt that the concerns raised by the other parties were adequately provided for in the proposed legislation.
The Chairperson requested Mr Siviwe Njikela, Legal Drafter, Legal Services, Department of Defence (DOD:) to speak to the concerns raised.
Mr Njikela said there was no reason why the money, or proceeds, accrued through mercenary activity could not be confiscated within the context of the Prevention of Organized Crime Act (1998). The State Law Advisors also agreed that the definition contained within the proposed legislation was broad enough to cover all proceeds including money. She was meant to give a definitive opinion that day but unfortunately she had a previous commitment. He requested Assistant Commissioner Jacobs, who had been part of the Departmental task team that was involved in the drafting of the legislation to give his interpretation.
Dr Philip Jacobs, Assistant Commissioner: Chief Manager of Legal Division, South African Police Services, agreed that the aspect of forfeiture of assets and the issue of gains from criminality were addressed in the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. He imagined that in most, if not all, cases the recruitment of any persons to participate in mercenary activities would fall within the definition of an organised criminal activity. It was an illegal action and the gains made from it were therefore illegal proceeds. People were being paid very large amounts to become mercenaries. He believed that the asset forfeiture provisions of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act should be applicable in this case.
The Chairperson requested clarity on the difference between authorisation and registration.
Mr Njikela said that Dr van Heerden had suggested that Clause 4(1) be amended to provide for registration rather than authorisation. The Member felt that soldiers should only be required to register and thereafter be free to take part in any activity in any country. Mr Njikela had then responded that the proposed legislation tried to ensure that for each and event mission rendered in a country of armed conflict or a regulated country the circumstances in that country should be assessed at that particular time. If one merely provided for a registration system South Africa would not be able to account for its own people because one would not know where they were rendering a particular services or even what kind of services they were rendering. The current wording gave the DOD the leverage needed to assess each service in respect of the country in which it would be rendered. Registration would mean that there was very little control over the activities South African soldiers were involved in. He felt that Dr van Heerden’s proposal would seriously weaken what the DOD was trying to achieve through the legislation as the DOD would then still have no control over the kind of services people were rendering or the countries in which they were operating.
Dr van Heerden said that he would not reopen the whole debate. His view was different from one held by Mr Njikela and he did not predict that they would see eye to eye in the matter.
The Chairperson recalled that that a number of South Africans who had been on their way to Equatorial Guinea were arrested and detained ion Zimbabwe on charges of mercenary activity. That incident had taught South Africa a lesson. Some of the people who had been arrested had embarked on the journey innocently in the hope of getting a job. When they found themselves in prison South Africa did not know what to do as it had no idea of where the men were headed or what they were going to do there. If the men had been authorized South Africa could have done more to facilitate their release.
The Chairperson felt that Clause 15 allowed for 6 months in which people could ensure that they fulfilled the requirements of the new legislation. This provision should address fears that people might lose their jobs. People involved in humanitarian activity could apply for an exemption.
The Chairperson said that he respected the views expressed by opposition parties. The Bill might be debated in the Free State. The Chairperson thanked the Department for taking time to go through the Bill with the Committee and hoped that the coming debate would reflect what had been discussed in the Committee.
On a vote, The African National Congress Members unanimously supported Bill while the DA and the FFP members rejected it. Those supporting the Bill had a majority vote.
Firearms Control Amendment Bill
The Chairperson reminded the Committee that Members had at a previous meeting requested Dr Jacobs to give them a glimpse of what stakeholders had said during the public hearings. The Committee would then consider whether they could accommodate stakeholder inputs or not.
He said that he had read something in the PMG minutes of 18 October 2006, which he feared could be misunderstood due to the way it had been captured. He was not sure whether the minute was a true reflection of what Dr Jacobs had said in that meeting.
Dr Jacobs explained that when answering a question related to whether the proposed legislation disarmed people, he had responded that during the initial drafting of the Act the British example had been considered as an option, but that Parliament had opted for responsible firearms ownership instead. He did not believe he had said that “disarmament” was necessary in South Africa, but had instead tried to point out that one of the objects of the Bill was to reduce the number of firearms within the country. He had also pointed out that it often happened that legal firearms became illegal through theft.
He said that he had already raised the issue with the PMG, who had undertaken to rectify their records. He realised that the PMG minutes were not the official records of the Committee, but felt that since the minutes were available to the public the misperception needed to be corrected.
The Chairperson said that PMG was the Committee’s friend and that the situation would be simple enough to rectify.
Firearms Control Amendment Bill Presentation
Director Jaco Bothma, Head of the Central Firearms Registry (CFR) accompanied the Assistant Commissioner, Dr Philip Jacobs. Dr Jacobs explained that the presentation would focus on those points that were representative of the 160 submissions made to the Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security. The submissions were very much based on the initial draft of the Bill and some of the concerns had already been addressed in subsequent amendments to the initial draft.
The presentation highlighted the major concerns that arose from the public hearings. Some submissions had asked for an audit and others for an audit with a competency test. The drafters felt that an audit would be couter-productive and disruptive. It was therefore proposed that relicensing be retained. An existing firearms would be relicensed subject to the requirements of the Act.
The proposal that “silencers” be included in Section 94 of the Act was agreed to.
The suggestion that primers not be regarded as ammunition was not supported, as they had already been so included in a repealed Act.
The definitions of “dispossession”, “calibre”, the new category of professional hunters, and “muzzle loaders” were outlined and explained.
The suggestion of provisional licences had been dealt with through a provision that approval could be given but the final license issued only once certain conditions had been met.
The renewal of competency provisions were outlined. Brokerage was covered in the National Conventional Arms Control Act.
The suggestions on age limits were not necessary to follow because the firearm loaned out would remain the responsibility of, and must be used under the immediate supervision of the owner.
SAPS acknowledged that there was a problem with the issuing of certificates by the sector training authority (SASSETA) and that this would be taken up with the SETA and the Department of Labour.
The principle relating to admission of guilt fines not automatically acting as a disqualifier for fitness to hold a firearm licence had been confirmed in a recent court decision. Section 103 of the principal Act should therefore remain.
The presenters discussed the perception that all exports be channelled through the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NACC). They also clarified that there was no problem in the storage of firearms by a licensed dealer, nor in the testing of firearms by a dealer or at an accredited range. In addition the proposals in relation to household firearms, where spouses held licences in respect of the same firearm, were already adequately dealt with.
Extensive discussion had been held on muzzle loaders, but SAPS had decided that there was not sufficient merit in suggesting that muzzle loaders should fall under other competency certificates. The presenters also discussed the new provisions in relation to collectors and indicated that the regulations would be drafted in consultation with collectors. Imitation weapons were already covered under the Dangerous Weapons Act but it was also proposed that amendments be made to the provisions of the Firearms Control Act
A new Section 6(4) was to be inserted into the Act to cater for situations where the applicant was the subject of a temporary protection order under the Domestic Violence Act and the provisions were discussed.
The presenters detailed the position of security companies who ceased to exist, as this had also been of some concern.
The Chairperson recalled that during the last meeting Mr Daryl Worth had asked how the South African Police Service (SAPS) would improve the tedious relicensing process.
Mr Bothma explained in many cases all information except an applicant’s initials, surname and ID number had changed. Recapturing all the new information made the initial relicensing such a tedious process. Subsequent renewals would be much quicker. The Department had in the meantime established what the shortcomings of the process were. A person would now be able to apply for a competency certificate through any accredited service provider and would not necessarily have to wait for long periods on Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA) certificates. This process should take no longer than four to six months.
Applicants needed two colour passport photos and the Department would use digital cameras in cases where people had neglected to bring their photos. It was also looking at how it could shorten the fingerprint process. Although decisions on competency were taken at the central firearm registry, renewals could now be granted at provincial level and it was up to provincial commissioners’ to fast track the process. Mr Bothma reiterated that the next renewal should proceed faster because the Department would have all the accurate information. The legislation required that any changes in firearm owners’ details should be reported within a 14 hour period of those changes coming into effect.
The Chairperson said that he had been told that it was necessary to do the renewal in the month in which a person had been born. He was concerned about those people who urgently needed renewals and could not necessarily wait until their turn came.
Dir Bothma explained that the entire implementation and transitional arrangements would be phased in over a period of five years. Within the first four years people would be required to apply for the renewal of their firearms. In the first phase, which had lasted from 1 January 2005 until 31March 2006, everyone with a date of birth between 1 January and 31 March had to apply for renewal. The current phase would last up until the 31 March 2007 and required those whose birth dates fell between 1 April and 30 June to apply for the renewal of the licenses. This routine would continue until 31 March 2009. It was important to bear in mind that the legislation guaranteed the right at any time to apply for renewal or competency certificates irrespective of date of birth. In exceptional circumstances a person could apply after the period had expired. The SAPS would be obliged to consider that application. If, however. a person failed to apply through negligence that would constitute an offence.
Mr Shiceka agreed with the sentiments raised by Mr Ntuli at a previous meeting. He supported the drive towards a gun free society. He felt that in order to achieve this, a phased approach should be used. Certain buildings and areas should first be declared gun free zones.
Dir Bothma explained that there had been a number of calls for firearm free zones. The SAPS was in discussion with a number of departments so that some buildings could be declared firearm free zones. He pointed out that a gun free zone could be declared by anyone but a firearm free zone could only be declared by the Minister. There were a number of requirements that the Department, as well as the owner of the prospective firearm free zone, had to comply with before the Minister could make such a declaration in the Government Gazette. He was hopeful that the first firearm free zone would still be declared in 2006.
Mr Shiceka had been informed that the process to receive a certificate could take five to six months. A competency certificate took 12 months. This meant that one could apply for a weapon only after 18 months. He wondered if the process could not be shortened through a one stop shop.
Mr N Mack (ANC – Western Cape) sought more information on what the competency requirements were. Such information would enable him to give his constituency accurate information whether they would qualify for a license or not. He said that he had a firearm and that due to the disability he had in his hands the process had been difficult for him. A disabled person was perhaps in greater need of a firearm than an able bodied person. He concurred that 18 months was too long a period to wait on a license.
Dir Bothma said that the legislation stated very clearly that before a person could apply for a new firearm license he or she had to apply for a competency certificate. The SAPS, in November 2005, with the approval of the Minister, had decided that one could apply for the license and the competency certificate concurrently. The competency certificate would be considered first and thereafter the license. All of this had been done in an attempt to fast track the process.
Dir Bothma said that the SAPS did not discriminate against disabled persons. The legislation said that as long as a person could prove that he or she could handle a firearm and that they had undergone the necessary training their application could not be declined.
He added that if a person applied for the renewal of a license he or she already possessed a firearm and a ‘green card’ in terms of the Firearms and Ammunition Act. To qualify for a competency certificate a person needed to undergo the necessary training, after which they had to go to the nearest designated firearm officer, provide two passport photos and an ID document. The competency certificate cost R70.00. For a renewal, safe inspections were also performed. Once the SAP517 form had been completed, the CFR did a background check and then the documentation was submitted. The process could be quite simple, provided there were no shortcomings such as the ones he had mentioned right at the beginning.
Dr Jacobs said that the transitional provisions of the Act also provided that a person who was a license holder under the repealed Act need not undergo the training in respect of the firearm he had already been issued. He only needed training in respect of the legal issues, being the the provisions of the new Act and the circumstances under which one was allowed to use the firearm. This concession was built into the act to make it easier for existing firearm owners to renew the licenses.
Mr Shiceka had also heard that there were many outstanding licenses and appeals in terms of the old Act. He wondered whether this was a result of the Firearms Registry being understaffed or ill equipped and still using old technology. He said that when citizens approached Government to request a particular service, that service had to be provided speedily.
Dir Bothma responded that his office was not under equipped. 85% of the people working at the CFR were not functional police officers. It was only at those stations where there were functional police officers that certain additional services were also rendered and people could be issued with firearms.
He explained that the appeal board worked very hard to address appeals. It was important to bear in mind that two processes were being run concurrently - one in terms of the new Act and the other in terms of the old one. Quite a number of appeals had been dealt with and finalised.
The Chairperson said that people were also complaining that while SAPS officials were well armed, citizens were being unnecessarily delayed when they tried to acquire firearms so that they too could be protected.
Mr Worth said that the DA’s position was that the Firearms Control Act was dysfunctional and could not work. The Firearms Amendment Bill basically represented a tinkering only. The DA believed that in a perfect world there would probably be no need for arms and that firearms should be done away with completely. He said that if guns were prohibited South Africans would probably find other ways of killing one another. Unfortunately South African society was violent and crime was on the increase. The State had held the view that there legal and illegal firearms. He agreed that the process of acquiring a legal firearm should be onerous to ensure that all safety measures were taken. The DA had, from the beginning, advocated for an audit to determine how many legal firearms there were in the country.
Dir Bothma explained that the processes currently followed for the renewal were similar to the ones that would be followed in an audit.
Mr Worth said that according to his figures there were 2, 5 million legal firearms in the country. The SAPS’ annual report for 2005/06 indicated that for the period 1 January to 31 March 2005 (the first phase of registering the firearms) 200 000 applications were received. This meant that slightly over 600 000 firearm would have to be registered from 1 January 2005 to 1 January 2008 to provide for all the legal firearms. He wondered how many of the 200 000 applications had actually been granted.
Dir Bothma assured Mr Worth that far less than 2,5 million people would renew their firearm license. If a firearm had been reported lost or stolen one did not have to renew that license. Since 1948 hundreds of thousands of firearms had been reported lost and stolen. Furthermore it was not necessary to renew the license for a muzzle loader, a number one air gun or deactivated firearm. Firearms could also be sold to a dealer or exported. Weapon holders had up until June 2009 to decide what they wanted to do with their firearms. He felt that considering all the options open to firearm owners the SAPS would not see anything close to 2,5 million applications for renewal.
Mr Worth said that one of the main arguments in the debate was that legal firearms eventually became illegal firearms. This was usually through some criminal activity. He said that Special Assignment had reported on how easily accessible guns were in Soweto provided one had the money to pay for them. The Auditor General, in the SAPS annual report, had stated that in the last financial year over 2 000 firearms were stolen from the police. He also mentioned that the police weapons were supposed to be audited twice a year but that this was not being done. SAPS thus might also be contributing to the spread of illegal firearms.
The Annual Report also indicated that during the amnesty period more legal than illegal firearms were handed in. Obviously the intention of the Act was to reduce the number of legal firearms, but he was concerned that no attempt was being made to locate and confiscate illegal firearms. Most law-abiding South African citizens who felt comfortable with owning a firearm were concerned about the pressure placed on legal owners. If the process had been streamlined and an audit had been done to establish exactly how many legal firearms there were and to make it extremely difficult for people to register new firearms, the SAPS could have concentrated on confiscating illegal firearms. The reverse was happening. It was extremely difficult for firearms licenses to be renewed yet illegal firearms abounded.
The Chairperson said that while he supported all Mr Worth had said he did not agree that South Africans were living in a violent society in which crime was on the increase.
Dir Bothma responded that long delays should be reported so that they could be investigated. He said that over 70 000 competency certificates had already been issued. There was a delay as far as the SASSETA training was concerned but the SAPS expected that the process would proceed faster now.
He added that at the moment there were 100 new applications under the old Act that had not been finalized because the applicants had criminal cases pending against them. In the next week these 100 applications would be cancelled and the applicants would be told to report back to the SAPS once their cases had been finalised if they still wanted to continue with the process.
Dr van Heerden said that the FFP was also opposed to the original Act because they felt that a person who had a license for a particular firearm, but failed to comply with the re-registration period, would have to relinquish the firearm. This amounted to a form of expropriation, albeit with some compensation. For this reason the FFP, although in favour of the certificate of competency, would definitely not support the Bill.
He added that if it was made difficult for a person to obtain a license and thus obtain a firearm via the legal route, such a person might become despondent and finally get a firearm through illegal means. He said that this should also be taken into consideration.
Dr Jacobs said that there was a huge difference in being caught with a legal firearm and being caught with an illegal one. People who opted to take the illegal route should bear in mind what the consequences would be.
The Chairperson wondered what happened in cases where a disabled person applied for a firearm but needed someone else to use it on their behalf.
Dr Jacobs felt that this question related to the circumstances taken into consideration when a competency certificate was being issued.
Dir Bothma said that in addition to the primary firearm license holder applying for a firearm license, a person staying on the firearm license holder’s property could also apply for a competency certificate and an additional license. Problems usually arose when one of the license holders moved from the premises. In such cases the person had to go to the SAPS or to the designated firearm officer to declare his status.
If someone decided to sell there were certain procedures that had to be followed. If selling to a dealer the firearm had to immediately be placed on the dealer’s stock. The dealer then had to forward a cancellation form to the SAPS who would cancel the firearm from the applicant’s name and place it onto the dealer’s name. If it was sold to another individual or a private business the buyer had to apply for a firearm license.
If by the 30 June 2009 the firearm was still in the owner’s possession and no renewal application had been made, the legislation was clear that the firearm had to be handed over to the SAPS.
The Chairperson sought clarity on the statement that admission of guilt could not be used as ground for a person to be declared unfit to possess a firearm, yet if one had been accused of domestic violence one was considered unfit to possess a firearm. He agreed that there were men who were violent and who abused their partners. He also however knew of women who claimed that they had been abused so that their partners could be locked away at weekends.
Dr Jacobs explained that under the current Act whenever a final protection order was issued against a person he could be declared unfit to possess a firearm. When a person was issued with an admission of guilt (normally for minor offences) that person would not automatically be declared unfit.
Mr Le Roux sought clarity on the normal time frame in which renewal could be finalised and the cost attached to it. He requested the same information related to a new license.
Dir Bothma explained that a new firearm license cost R140.00. A person who already had a competency certificate would only paid for the license. A person who applied for a renewal paid R70.00 for the competency certificate, and a further R70.00 for each renewal. If a person applied for the competency certificate and the license or the renewal simultaneously the process was shorter. Separate applications could take up to 18 months. The SAPS also had to do a background evaluation and safe inspection which relied on the applicant’s availability. New applications enjoyed priority.
Ms F Nyanda (ANC Mpumalanga) wondered whether the SAPS had adequately explained to the public that applying for the competency certificate and the license at the same time sped up the process.
Dir Bothma confirmed that officials were trained to inform applicants of the difference in the duration of the two routes. He said that he would highlight the matter to the designated firearm officers.
Mr Mack sought greater clarity on the details of the competency test. He had had to submit a medical certificate confirming that he still had enough flexibility in his hands to manage a firearm.
Dir Bothma explained that the form itself related to Section 9 of the Act. When a designated officer did a background evaluation he or she had the right to request a doctor’s or any other kind of certificate that would assist them in their evaluation.
Dr van Heerden wondered what happened if someone had inherited a firearm that he did not want.
Dir Bothma responded that if a person possessed a firearms license in terms of the Arms and Ammunition Act, and passed away before he or she could renew the license, the person who inherited it had to apply afresh for a firearm license. If someone inherited the firearm and wanted to donate it to someone else the SAPS required that the holder provide SAPS with a sworn statement confirming their donation. The person who now received the firearm would have to apply for the license. If a person did not want the firearm at all he could voluntarily surrender it. In such cases the executor of the estate would come to the police station to hand in the firearm and to indicate that the person who had inherited it did not wish to keep it. The SAPS would then destroy that firearm at no charge.
Mr Shiceka sought clarity on exactly how long it would take to obtain a license. This information was very important and people were interested in knowing.
Dir Bothma fully supported the notion that there should be a contract between the community and SAPS. He said that it was difficult to give exact time frames. Taking away all variables he said it should take no longer than six months to get a competency certificate and no more than six months to get a firearm license. If applications were made concurrently it should take no longer than six months in all. He added that it normally took much less than six months. He said that in many cases information had to be updated and that often took time.
Mr Shiceka wondered how many new applications had been received and how many had been declined. He wondered what the main reasons for declining them were.
Dir Bothma responded that there has been quite a decrease in the number of people applying for new firearms. Up until November 2005 people had to apply first for a competency certificate and then for licenses. This way of doing things resulted in a backlog. So far over 5 000 licenses had been issued and nearly 1 000 had been refused. Another 3 500 had been processed but due to the problems with either the firearm or the individual these had not yet been issued. Country-wide, nearly 20 000 applications were in circulation. One of the reasons why applications could be denied was if the applicant could not adequately motivate that the firearm was required for self-defence. The Act was very clear that there had to be a need for self defence, and evidence that there was no other means other than having a firearm of addressing that need. The onus was on the applicant to provide the SAPS with the motivation and substantive documentation. He said that in most cases applicants simply did not comply with the legislation or failed to give adequate motivation for why they needed a firearm.
The Chairperson confirmed that the maximum time to wait for a weapon is six months. He asked the presenters to note Members’ concerns around the time it took to finalize the application process. He asked what a person had to do to obtain an inoperable or imitation firearm and asked if such firearms had to be licensed.
Dr Jacobs replied that in terms of the present Act a person was not allowed to be in possession of an imitation of an automatic firearm.
Dir Bothma explained that a person had to apply for a firearm license before there could even be talk of making it inoperable. In terms of the Amendment Act a person had to have a license for prohibited or restricted firearms which then needed to be made inoperable. There was a difference between making a firearm inoperable and deactivating it. No license was needed for a deactivated firearm, as it was immediately obvious that it had been deactivated. An imitation firearm, on the other hand, looked exactly like the original one. There had been an increase in crimes that were being committed with imitation firearms. As a police officer he predicted that people would move towards using imitation firearms in crimes if care was not taken in legislating their use.
Mr Shiceka wondered how urgently the Bill was needed. He said that he had ten pages of proposed amendments. If the proposals were to be taken seriously much more time would be needed. The best option would probably be for him to forward the proposals to the SAPS for consideration.
Dr Jacobs said that there were numerous issues in the Bill that could speed up the process of relicensing, and he felt that those amendments were quite urgent. At present muzzle loaders could be imported and sold to minors, or sold by any business, not necessarily only a licensed dealer. These firearms were increasing in number all the time. Regulating muzzle loaders would also place an additional burden on the police in that they would now require a competency certificate despite the fact they would not be licensing them. He pointed out that not the whole of the Act need necessarily be put into force. It was possible that part of it should come into force, and then another part at a later stage. The whole scenario around muzzle loaders had changed. When the legislation was drafted there was talk of antique firearms, but there were very few at the time. The problem was that imitation muzzleloaders could also be imported and that had led to thousands being imported. The Act provided for a one year grace period in which persons who were in possession of muzzleloaders had to obtain competency certificates. This would also impact on the implementation of the new Bill. He emphasized that it was not necessary to put the entire Act in operation straight away.
Other issues such as the provisions relating professional hunters were improvements on the old Act. The provisions would enable simplifications and fast tracking of the relicensing process were very important.
Motion of Desirability
Mr Worth made it clear that the DA would be opposing the Bill.
The ANC unanimously supported the motion of desirability.
The Chairperson said that the Bill was scheduled for plenary in the NCOP on 15 November. The Committee could pass it during their visit to the Free State, or members could return to pass it on 14 November so that they could debate it on 15 November.
The Committee agreed to pass the Bill while on their visit in the Free State.
The Chairperson said that in the next meeting the Committee would go straight into the Clause by clause discussion. He was pleased that the Committee had now received an idea of what had been discussed in the public hearings of the National Assembly.
Other Committee Business
The Chairperson said that at a meeting of the programming committee the previous week the Head of the Committee Section had complained that Committees failed to use their allocations. There was a possibility that they would forfeit what was left of their allocation and could face a cut in their allocation in the next financial year.
The Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Affairs’ budget stood at R471 000 at the moment. The Committee had to ensure that it was utilised in the best interest of the people. Due to changes in the parliamentary programme the Committee had had to postpone all three of the provincial trips it had scheduled. The visit to the North West Province scheduled for 13-17 of November had now been approved. The Committee would visit the defence camps and army base, prisons, magistrates and prosecutors. They would also meet with the regional heads of correctional services. The week of the visit was unfortunately also the week in which the two Bills would be debated in Parliament.
The Chairperson said that there had been a suggestion to postpone the visit until the week of 20 November. He reminded members that if the visit was not undertaken in this year there was a possibility that the Committee’s budget might be decreased.
Mr Shiceka proposed that the Committee should consider one of the two weeks after Parliament had risen. The committees had undertaken to spend 70% of their time on the ground and 30% of their time at Parliament. Programming however militated against this undertaking. There appeared to be no coherence between Parliament’s programming and the Committees’ activities.
The Committee agreed that it could undertake the trip during the week of 27 November.
Ms Nyanda said that there was a possibility that the Civil Union legislation might be debated in the week of 27 November within the NA. After that the NCOP might be required to consider it.
The Chairperson said that this development indicated that the Committee should seriously consider the trip for the week of 20 November. He pleaded with members to prioritise the work the Committee had to do.
The meeting was adjourned.
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