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AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE
12 June 2007
SOUTH AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION STRATEGIC PLAN AND BUDGET 2007/08
Chairperson: Mr L Mokoena (ANC)
Documents handed out:
SAHRC Strategic Plan 2007/08 presentation
SAHRC Annual Report 2006/07 presentation
Audio Recording of the Meeting
Before progressing with the meeting agenda, the Committee expressed unhappiness that the leadership of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was not in attendance. Initially, there were calls for the meeting to be halted. It was eventually decided that the meeting would continue.
The SAHRC, addressed the Committee on the organization’s vision and mission. The Strategic Plan for 2007/08 included the additional area of freedom from crime and violence. The restructuring of the SAHRC was outlined, with 3 new programmes created. The different jobs and their corresponding duties were tabled.
The baseline allocation had increased gradually on a year by year basis and would total R55.2 million in the current financial year. The activities and achievements of each of the SAHRC programmes were outlined.
Mr L Mokoena (ANC) announced that neither the Chairperson nor the CEO of the SAHRC would be present at the meeting. He viewed this as unfortunate and demanded an explanation from the Commission’s representative.
Ms Judith Cohen, Head: Parliamentary Liaison, Legislation and Treaty Body Monitoring, SAHRC, replied that their absence was as a result of a long standing prior engagement with the Presidency.
Mr M Mzizi (IFP) dismissed this excuse. He complained that it would be difficult to direct questions at the representative because he was not certain whether she had the competency and authority to respond to the Committee’s interrogation.
Mr N Mack (ANC) agreed and accused the Commission of minimising the role of the NCOP. He suggested that the meeting be abandoned.
The Chairperson acknowledged the concerns raised by his colleagues. He mentioned that the Office of the Public Protector and the Commission on Gender Equality avoided this type of scenario by rescheduling their meetings with the Committee. This ensured that all responsible individuals were present at the interaction. The Chairperson stressed that the Committee’s concerns should not be considered as a classic case of "shooting the messenger". Lastly he wondered whether Ms Cohen would be able to provide answers to the Committee’s questions.
Ms Cohen responded that she was part of the management of the organization and would hopefully be able to answer the Committee’s questions. In addition, an assurance was given that the Committee’s disquiet would be conveyed to the leadership of the Commission.
Mr S Shiceka (ANC) proposed that the meeting should continue because the Commission was unfamiliar with the Committee’s policy that the leadership should attend meetings when their organizations appeared before them.
The Chairperson allowed the meeting to proceed.
SAHRC Strategic Plan 2007/08 PowerPoint Presentation: Briefing by SAHRC
Ms Judith Cohen announced that the 2007/08 Strategic Plan included the additional area of Freedom from Crime and Violence. This was stimulated by the huge public outcry concerning crime and the President’s comments on this subject during the State of the Nation Address. The Commission would be remiss to ignore the impact of crime on human rights.
The restructuring of the SAHRC was outlined, with three new programmes created. The scope of the parliamentary monitoring programme was broadened to include international treaty monitoring. Work done by the information and communications programme comprised of media communications, publications and work around the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). Lastly, there was a special programme dedicated to community outreach and advocacy.
The SAHRC had established four co-ordinator positions in the following focus areas: business and human rights, crime and human rights, disability and equality. These co-ordinators would be appointed at senior level within the organization. They would be responsible for co-ordinating activities in their focus areas and enhancing the visibility of the Commission.
An organogram of the Commission was tabled. The functions and duties of the different positions within the organization were clearly and comprehensively set out. The Chief Executive Officer: Strategic Management was tasked with ensuring legislative compliance. Matters pertaining to community outreach, awareness programmes and the development of e-Learning were handled by the Operations: Education, Training and Public Awareness section. The Operations: Legal Services section was charged with investigating individual and systemic complaints of human rights violations.
The outputs and service delivery indicators of the four new/restructured programmes were tabled but not discussed.
Ms Cohen indicated that baseline allocation had increased gradually on a year by year basis. It would total R55.2 million in the current financial year. A breakdown was provided of the budgets for the four previous financial years. Also, a diagram of the budgeted expenditure per programme for the next financial year was supplied.
SAHRC Annual Report 2006/07 PowerPoint Presentation: Briefing by SAHRC
Ms Judith Cohen stated that public inquiries formed an essential tool in determining public opinion on a particular topic. Last year, the Commission held successful public inquiries into school based violence and initiations. The SAHRC was encouraged by the level of public interest and participation. The Right to Basic Education report was also launched during this period.
Other activities of the SAHRC included convening a conference on crime and its impact on human rights, conducting strategic interventions particularly in the rural areas and participating in international conferences. The Commission also finalised its opinion on whether Minister Ronnie Kasrils engaged in hate speech.
The SAHRC enjoyed a prominent and distinguished international profile. It was often called upon to train similar institutions from foreign countries and participate at international conferences.
The diagrams illustrated that baseline allocation increased marginally on a year by year basis. The figure totaled R49.2 million for the previous financial year.
Ms Judith Cohen set out the activities and achievements of each of the programmes of the SAHRC over the 2006/07 period. The following points were highlighted under these sub-programmes:
Sub-Programme: Parliamentary Liason and Legislation Monitoring
The SAHRC offered 15 submissions on draft legislation and briefings. The highly contested Civil Union Bill and Sexual Offences Bill were examples of this. The Commission underlined the issue of persons living with disability because this topic was not promoted sufficiently by civil society.
Sub-Programme: Media and Communications
The SAHRC ensured that all its reports were translated in all the official languages by the Department of Arts and Culture. The organization appeared on average 3 times a week in the media and its website continued to achieve respectable figures.
The SAHRC identified that the elderly were often neglected by society and decided to visit 9 institutions that housed the aged. There was an increased visibility and representation of the organization in the HIV/AIDS field. Interventions were made in Masiphumele, Cape Town and Motherwell to address the violent attacks on Somali nationals.
Sub-Programme: Human Resources
The SAHRC had developed a three-year training and development plan to retain staff and attract quality individuals. The salary structure would need to be reviewed to compete with government departments and other public institutions. The Commission had a 9.8% vacancy rate. This fell within the acceptable level for a public institution.
Sub-Programme: Administration, Supply Chain Management and IT
A new IT policy had been adopted and implemented.
Sub-Programme: Education, Training and Public Awareness
While all its offices were based in major cities, the SAHRC managed to intervene in 198 rural communities.
Sub-Programme: Legal Services
SAHRC conducted public hearings on school based violence and initiations. The Commission also instituted litigation on behalf of individuals and organizations whose human rights were violated. The number and type of cases/violations was summarized.
Sub-Programme: Research and Development
A key highlight was the launch of the Deputy Information Officers Forum. This would make it easier for ordinary people to access information. The SAHRC monitored the performance of equality courts and the implementation of PAIA. The Commission hosted the inaugural Openness Awards in collaboration with the Open Democracy Advice Centre.
The remainder of the report was tabled and not discussed.
Mr M Mzizi (IFP) supposed that the Commission was not vocal enough on matters relating to sexual offences.
Ms Judith Cohen divulged that the Commission constantly grappled with this issue. There were differing views on whether the Commission should claim this space or leave it to the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE). Lastly, she concluded that the Commission was committed to promoting a broader human rights culture within the country.
Mr A Moseki (ANC) enquired as to when the North West provincial office was to open. Furthermore, he lamented the paucity of staff at provincial offices and how this impacted on rural communities.
Ms Judith Cohen answered that the North West office would probably open in the next couple of months. She conceded that the staff complements at provincial offices were too small. There was an ongoing internal debate on how to make these offices larger and more effective.
Mr D Worth (DA) sought the Commission’s view on the notion of creating a fund for victims of crime.
Ms Judith Cohen replied that this matter had been explored at different fora. The SAHRC was not opposed to the idea but was more interested in looking at victims’ rights more broadly.
Mr Z Ntuli (ANC) wanted to establish what sort of relationship the SAHRC had with the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD).
Ms Judith Cohen confirmed that the entities worked closely together. The Commission often referred cases to the ICD and did follow ups.
The Chairperson asked the Commission about its findings regarding Minister Ronnie Kasrils’ alleged hate speech.
Ms Judith Cohen declared that his comments did not constitute hate speech and were deemed fair and just.
Mr M Mzizi (ANC) queried the Commission’s relations with other Chapter 9 institutions.
Ms Judith Cohen replied that there were different levels of co-ordinations between the diverse and entities.
Mr S Shiceka (ANC) considered the SAHRC as a one man organization. Apart from Mr Jody Kollapen, all the other office bearers appeared to be invisible. He therefore advised that the structure of the organization needed to be broadened to remedy this problem.
Ms Judith Cohen found these comments amusing and interesting.
Mr A Manyosi (ANC) examined why the SAHRC had vacancies.
Ms Judith Cohen explained that the organisation’s vacancy rate fell within the acceptable level. Vacancies existed because the SAHRC was unable to compete with the salaries offered by government. The human resources division was currently handling staff retention strategies and salary adjustments.
Mr Manyosi asked whether the Commission intended to expand and create more offices in the rural areas.
Ms Judith Cohen answered that the geographical position of the offices were not relevant. The Commission needed to be imaginative and committed with its efforts to reach out and communicate with people living in rural areas.
The Chairperson stated that some people believed that the Commission should justify its existence. He asked the Commission to respond to this assertion and indicate whether it had sufficient bite.
Ms Judith Cohen articulated that this issue was raised with the Kader Asmal review of the Chapter 9 institutions. The question goes to the nature/core of the power of the Commission. The founding legislation needed to be amended in order to make government departments more accountable. The amendments should compel them to respond within certain time frames.
Mr Shiceka accused the SAHRC of ignoring the plight of farmers.
Mr Moseki weighed in that farm workers were the most vulnerable communities. He wondered whether the SAHRC had any impact on these communities.
Ms Judith Cohen clarified that the issue of farm workers were close to her heart. The SAHRC was equally concerned about the abuse of farm workers. Discussions were held earlier this year with the Select Committee of Land to address some of these concerns.
Mr N Mack (ANC) interrogated whether the equality courts were functional.
Ms J Cohen proclaimed that the SAHRC had authored a report on this issue and submitted it to the Kader Asmal review. The findings revealed that it was not working as well as the Commission had envisaged. The people were not aware of these courts and did not know how to access them.
Mr Manyosi and Mr Shiceka advised that the Commission advance its projects through government structures and constituency officers.
Mr Van Heerden (FF+) complained about the poor application of PAIA.
Ms Judith Cohen agreed that the legislation was not implemented as well as the Commission had imagined. A study on this issue was submitted to the Kader Asmal review.
Mr Mzizi enquired whether the Commission litigated or did referrals.
Ms Judith Cohen articulated that the Commission had a difficult task because almost every problem could be considered a human rights problem. She explained that the Commission automatically referred cases if they did not fall within its mandate or if it could be better handled by another entity. All referrals were monitored.
The Chairperson invited the Commission to make concluding remarks.
Ms Judith Cohen indicated that the SAHRC appreciated the engagement and welcomed the opportunity for further interact with the Committee.
Mr Shiceka thanked Ms Cohen. He hoped that the leadership would be present at future engagements with the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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