Hu­man rights com­mis­sion­ers told to stick to work­ing con­di­tions

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA andisiwe.makinana@city­press.co.za

Barely two months in of­fice, the newly ap­pointed hu­man rights com­mis­sion­ers are al­ready at odds with Par­lia­ment over a pro­posal that full-time com­mis­sion­ers be based in their prov­inces, as op­posed to the head­quar­ters in Jo­han­nes­burg.

The com­mis­sion ar­gues that this is to “in­crease ef­fi­ciency and vis­i­bil­ity”.

The SA Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (SAHRC) ap­peared be­fore Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on jus­tice and con­sti­tu­tional de­vel­op­ment this week to ac­count for its role in the deaths of psy­chi­atric pa­tients in Gaut­eng last year. It apol­o­gised for not do­ing enough to in­ter­vene af­ter a com­plaint was laid with the com­mis­sion in March 2016.

The new com­mis­sion­ers were ap­pointed in De­cem­ber and as­sumed of­fice on Jan­uary 3.

SAHRC chair Bon­gani Ma­jola told MPs that they had ob­served that the com­mis­sion was not vis­i­ble and many peo­ple said they hardly hear about it.

“In dis­cussing how to deal with this, we thought that per­haps we should make com­mis­sion­ers vis­i­ble in prov­inces so that each prov­ince would have some­body re­spon­si­ble for that prov­ince, and deal with is­sues re­lated to that prov­ince.

“We also came to the con­clu­sion that per­haps we do not have to lo­cate all the full-time com­mis­sion­ers in Jo­han­nes­burg. As a re­sult, we think that be­cause part-time com­mis­sion­ers are part time, one pos­si­bil­ity is that we might leave them in the prov­ince they come from so they can spend hours there,” he said.

Ma­jola pro­posed that full-time com­mis­sion­ers who are based, for ex­am­ple, in the Western Cape, would be al­lowed to re­main in the Western Cape and ser­vice ad­ja­cent prov­inces, work­ing to­gether with the com­mis­sion­ers who are based in Jo­han­nes­burg.

An­other com­mis­sioner, An­dre Gaum, added that they want to be more in­volved and not have “an ivory tower kind of ap­proach”. But MPs ba­si­cally told them to take a hike. “This re­minds me … of hir­ing some­one who, dur­ing the job in­ter­view says they are avail­able to work at all hours, but af­ter get­ting the job, they start telling you that they only stick to work­ing hours,” said ANC MP Bon­gani Bongo.

“At face value, if you are full time it means you must be full time at the of­fice at­tend­ing to day-to­day is­sues. If you are part time, you are go­ing to stay in the Western Cape and you will be called in as and when there are com­mit­tees in Jo­han­nes­burg,” said Bongo.

Com­mit­tee chair­per­son Mathole Mot­shekga warned: “We have said we don’t want com­mis­sion­ers who act in si­los. We have seen the prob­lem of act­ing in si­los. It has cre­ated the [Life Esidi­meni] disas­ter the na­tion is mourn­ing.”

Mot­shekga said the law states that the seat of the com­mis­sion is in Jo­han­nes­burg and com­mis­sion­ers should be based in Jo­han­nes­burg.

“I am not con­vinced that we need province­based com­mis­sion­ers and part-time com­mis­sion­ers who are solely at­tached to their prov­inces,” Mot­shekga said, adding that the ef­fec­tive­ness of the or­gan­i­sa­tion de­pends on a strong cen­tre.

Mot­shekga later told City Press that he thought the pro­posal was about “con­ve­nience”.

“If I have my fam­ily in the North­ern Cape, I would pre­fer to be there. Peo­ple do not want to move and they will give you all sorts of rea­sons.”

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