Asmal takes on Parliament

Veteran ANC activist and former MP Kader Asmal has accused Parliament of having no interest in his review of Chapter 9 institutions.

Veteran ANC activist and former MP Kader Asmal has accused Parliament of having no interest in his review of Chapter 9 institutions charged by the Constitution with protecting democracy, saying that the failure to debate the review was “an appalling scandal”.

Asmal submitted his 260-page report to Parliament two years ago. The fact that it had not been debated was “an appalling scandal, an appalling waste of money”, he told a conference convened by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (Eisa) in Johannesburg this week.

The report, on the functioning and effectiveness of institutions, including the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Commission for Gender Equality and the Public Protector, was commissioned by former parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete.

Asmal blamed the poor monitoring of the institutions on the fact that few MPs know how they work.

“The monitoring of the institutions is haphazard, incomplete, erratic and often not a great product because MPs do not read documents from these institutions,” he said.

An Eisa study of the SAHRC and Public Protector, released this week, said that the SAHRC was particularly badly affected. The executive was often “uncooperative” and the commission had to request Parliament’s intervention, it said.

“Parliament, to whom these institutions are accountable, has not sufficiently engaged the reports that these institutions submit and does not work closely with them to enhance its oversight role over the executive,” it said.

It also found that it was difficult for the institutions to extract information, particularly from government departments, as the executive did not take them seriously. “It is frustrating the two bodies and creating animosity between them and the executive.”

Asmal said the institutions needed a “champion” in Parliament, a role he said should be played by the speaker of the National Assembly. His 260-page report proposed the establishment of an umbrella human rights body, the South African Commission on Human Rights and Equality, and called on Parliament to give Chapter 9 institutions power to direct and influence political decisions with human rights implications. “You have to have political clout,” he told the conference.

The institutions were blamed for not doing enough to reduce overlapping functions. “Instances of collaboration have been few and there is an element of competition,” said the Eisa report.

The SAHRC’s chief executive, Tseliso Thipanyane, conceded that because of the commission’s broad mandate—the entire Bill of Rights—the danger of overlaps existed. “We’ve come to ask ourselves… does it make sense to have so many offices discharging similar actions?”

But he said remedial measures were in place. “When we receive complaints we refer them to the relevant institution.”

Researchers from other countries warned against collapsing Chapter 9 institutions into one, saying that they could be more easily “strangled”.

The Eisa report recommended that the SAHRC and the Public Protector receive additional funding and that Parliament adopt an effective procedure for the consideration and debate of their reports.

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