Transcript: Past Cabinet by Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson

06 May 2010

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 06 May 2010
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town


Journalist: I wonder if you can explain why the 14-day deadline to submit the public response to the Public Protector’s Report was missed as well by The Presidency. Why the recommendation of the Public Protector that the anomalies in the Act or the Code be addressed by Parliament, is not being followed because it’s now going to be dealt with by The Presidency with the Minister of Justice. Is the President going to apologise for his breach of the Code?

Themba Maseko: As far as I am aware the President did not miss the 14-day deadline, the only thing that we are reporting about is that report served before Cabinet at yesterday’s meeting, but the deadline was indeed met. Why is the gap being addressed by the two Departments? Essentially what this means is that the two Departments will actually propose amendments to the Code of the Act but ultimately the Draft Law will then be sent to Parliament for consideration. So The Presidency and the justice department will be the lead departments drafting the Bill that will be submitted to Parliament.

Journalist: With respect Themba, it is entirely inappropriate for the executive to draft the amendment to this Bill; it’s about accountability to the people and that’s the role of Parliament.

Themba Maseko: The executive draft 99% of the Bills that are tabled before Parliament, so it’s not unusual for the executive to draft an amendment to a Bill. But ultimately the executive doesn’t pass laws, it only submit bills to Parliament; that is what we are dealing with here. So whether the executive should have even participated in that process - I think you can express an opinion on that one but in terms of current practice it is the executive that drafts Bills that are submitted to Parliament and that’s exactly what Cabinet is trying to do here. Whether the President will apologise for missing the deadline, at this stage I am not aware of any plan or intention to apologise. However, in his response to the Public Protector, the President did express his regret for missing the deadline and raised all the legal issues that may have contributed to the delay. But short answer: not aware of a plan for the President to apologise.

Journalist: But why do you say alleged breach even though the Public Protector found that there was a breach, does the President then believe that he was not in the wrong, even though the Public Protector found that he was in the wrong.

Themba Maseko: There was a breach, we can correct that statement, there was a breach and it has been accepted. And that is why Cabinet followed the recommendations of the Public Protector which was simply for Cabinet to discuss the report and make recommendations about what needs to be done. So that’s why we are actually having this process that we are explaining here, so we can remove the alleged in the statement, apologies for that.

Journalist: Could you give us something more about the Cabinet’s thinking about the Civil Justice Reform Project? Just what it is going to involve; what are the problems; will we see legislation coming to Parliament about that? How would the Judiciary be involved in this? Surely judges should have a say about how the courts are conducted.

Themba Maseko: The Justice Reform Project, if you look at that paragraph, we identified the things that it is seeking to do. It will investigate, for instance, measures that need to be put in place to make the civil courts to be much more efficient and effective. It will look at the impact and the effectiveness of current legislation. In other words there are laws that need to be amended if we want to make these courts more efficient. Is it affordable for ordinary South Africans to actually take action using the Civil Courts? It will also look at the alternative disputes resolution mechanisms so that if it is possible for disputes to be settled without having to go to a High Court, that should actually be explored and strengthened. Obviously the legal profession will actually be given the opportunity to make submissions to the department to make sure whatever recommendations are made, we actually had the benefit of comments from the judiciary.

Question not audible: Not discussed at the meeting, the most important decision was for Cabinet to approve the terms of reference and that is what happened yesterday.

Journalist: On the Auditor-General’s report that is mentioned there, is that a new report or just commenting on an old report? Is it just being tabled or if you can give an idea of its status?

Themba Maseko: I think that is a final report for the period 2008/2009 and the normal process in Government is that as soon as the Auditor-General completes its report for national and provincial department a presentation is then given to the executive to inform the executive what are the weaknesses in terms of controls and procedures, and that is why this was tabled to Cabinet yesterday, but it is a period covering the 2008/2009 fiscal year.

Journalist: The Legal Practice Bill provides for community service for legal graduates. What was the justification for this? Also the Minister of Justice said in his budget vote that these legal graduates would be required to work pro bono which means for nothing, whereas community service doctors get paid a salary - surely that is unfair.

Themba Maseko: We are still talking about a Bill at this particular point in time so there will be opportunities for members of the profession and members of the public to make submissions and comments. Whether this is the right way to go and basically the justification for this decision - you want to have a situation where professionals trained by various institutions in the country are giving the opportunity to work with communities and address challenges that communities are facing on the ground. The department feels that it is actually a better route to go to make sure by the time people qualify to be attorneys and advocates they would have had the experience to work directly with communities, especially communities in poor areas who cannot afford to pay a lawyer to attend to their legal issues and challenges, but I think that would be part of the justification. The payment issue, yes the current proposal is that it must be pro bono but the Bill will go to Parliament; it will still be debated there, so it will may or may not even be the final decision on this matter.

Journalist: Will music graduates be forced to do community service and play concerts for the people?

Themba Maseko: I am not aware of a plan to do that but I imagine that music students actually do provide free concerts to members of the community in various capacity in churches, street corners, stations and all of those kind of things, but it is about essentially developing and encouraging a spirit of community involvement by our professionals. I think that is an important principle that needs to be considered by all South Africans. I think that is a very positive step.

Journalist: What kind of things is cabinet considering with regard to cost effectiveness of the civil justice system? I mean surely this is going to be very difficult because you know if you going to sue someone, you need about a million rand, you need money for attorneys and advocates. What is the preliminary thinking about this?

Themba Maseko: The most important thing here is that the civil justice system must be accessible to ordinary South Africans and part of the challenge that we are facing at this particular point in time is that if we leave the system as it is, chances are that ordinary South Africans, especially those who cannot afford it, will not be able to exercise their right by taking another citizen to court for a civil dispute so ways will have to be found. That is part of the project investigation - ways will have to be found to just make it possible for ordinary citizens to also utilise the courts to settle civil disputes so it is part of their terms of reference. It should be explored by this particular project so I can’t give you specific details at this stage.

Journalist: What kind of support is there in Cabinet for the proposal by the Defence Minister for a national service for the youth?

Themba Maseko: Cabinet does support the initiative and the Minister did indicate in the speech it is still a proposal that needs to be looked at. And at this stage we anticipate that there’s going to be active public support for this move but in this Cabinet meeting the matter was not on the agenda.

Journalist: Has something gone wrong with the nomination/ election/ appointment of candidates in the international organisations that it has come up. What brings it up now? What particular national bodies do we have in mind?

Themba Maseko: The issue here is you know that South Africa is playing quite a significant role in a lot of the international bodies and if you look at people who are working in the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) - all these bodies - you find that there is little participation by South Africans in these bodies and up to now it was left to individual departments to simply nominate and get somebody appointed into these international bodies without a coordinated approach. What this committee is going to look at is to identify all the vacancies at all levels in international bodies and then begin to coordinate the way we nominate to those positions. It will also serve to encourage South Africans to make themselves available to play a role in the international bodies because at a political level you’ve got members of Cabinet attending these bodies, playing a significant role pushing for policy positions, but when it comes to people working full time for these bodies there is literally minimum participation by South Africans. So this committee will just seek to coordinate identified opportunities and encourage South Africans to work for these bodies. The bodies we talking about here are all the international bodies, continental bodies where South Africa is a major participant .

Journalist: Speaking off the microphone

Themba Maseko: No not this specific incident. Is that a follow up question?

Journalist: Would we be talking specifically perhaps about the UN? I mean just in terms of the reform drive there and wanting to get permanent seat on the Security Council?

Themba Maseko: The UN is one of the bodies but all bodies that have vacancies we want to see greater South African participation, be it the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), AU - all the international bodies basically, so the UN will also be included in that context.

Journalist: Could you give me more detail about the Constitution Amendment Bill and the Superior Courts Bill, you know part of changing the names of various courts and institutions, is it changing anything else? It seems to me it’s really restating what is already the status quo.

Themba Maseko: You will see in that paragraph on the Constitutional Bill there are quite a number of important policy changes that will be effected for instance formally saying the Chief Justice is now head of the judiciary and here are some technical issues changing the names from magistrates courts to law courts. It is also making sure we now have a standard use of terms for the courts we have the country. So you could say a lot of this changes are of a technical nature but it is meant to standardise and make sure we have a single Bill that articulates - if anybody wants to know and understand how the judicial system works in this country they don’t have to look for four or five pieces of legislation; there will be one Superior Courts Bill; it will answer all those questions about the structures, the roles of the various courts in the country.

Journalist: I see a new National Commissioner for Correctional Services has been appointed. Did the Minister of Correctional Services - what did she say to Cabinet about the legal challenge by the former national commissioner? How has that been resolved?

Themba Maseko: When this appointment was made in Cabinet yesterday the issue of a possible legal challenge was not discussed but this appointment was supported by Cabinet.

Journalist: Some shareholders in the Reserve Bank are threatening to mount a legal challenge to block amendments to the Reserve Bank Act. What is Cabinet’s view on this?

Themba Maseko: Well the amendment to the South African Reserve Bank was discussed by Cabinet at its previous meeting and it was fully endorsed by Cabinet. We do expect some of the shareholders to challenge this Bill we are putting in Parliament but our view is that the amendments, the process that we are implementing to amend the Bill, is fully in line with existing procedures and regulations but it is not unexpected that some of the shareholders who have wanted to increase their shareholding in the Reserve Bank may not take this lying down. They may want to take Government to court but we think the process that we are following is fully legal and there is nothing we should be worried about in this particular point in time. Especially bearing in mind the Reserve Bank is a national institution so if anybody buys shares with the hope of making millions out of it they are making a mistake because the bank is a national institution managing important monetary policies for the country. The board is responsible for the governance issues within the bank but as far as the legal challenge is concerned we don’t have any problems, we think the Bill is defensible.

Journalist: Was this thing of national service for the youth within the Defence Force really thought through very well because already there’s a lot of confusion. I mean the Minister said in her press briefing it would be voluntary and then later on in her Budget speech she said it would be unavoidable. If you speak to the unions in the military they say well where is everyone going to stay, there is already not enough accommodation for the existing soldiers. Surely there must have been a lot of thought put into this before such a big announcement was made and what about all those little problems, how will they be solved?

Themba Maseko: We might have to get the Department to give details on that one. At the Cabinet meeting the details of the policy proposal were not discussed so we can arrange for the Department of Defence to give more details on that. I suspect the proposal was carefully thought through otherwise it would not have been announced.

Journalist: The Legal Practice Bill is to open up sort of access to justice but yesterday, and I want to find out what the sense is in Cabinet, it seems as if the major thrust of this is actually to increase opportunities for black lawyers and black advocates who are not getting briefs and it’s sort of hidden and encroached within that is the sort of access to justice because technically speaking, if you are an advocate and you have to do pro bono work you can just go out and join a sort of legal firm and you lock your services in house. I’m trying to find out what is the philosophy behind this legal practice Bill. Is it really to open access, to increase access to justice or is it to give aspiring black lawyers and advocates better work opportunities?

Themba Maseko: I’m not sure if the two are mutually exclusive. The Bill seeks to transform the legal profession, increase access and at the same time make sure that professionals who enter the profession - this Bill is saying for those who qualify the next step would be to do this community service. So it’s essentially to encourage South African professionals to actually get involved with their communities and yes it’s part of the transformation of the legal profession in its totality but if you want more details about the philosophy behind this Bill, I may not be able to share that with you but we can get a specialist from the Department to brief you about this.

Journalist: The Finance Minister is in Dar er Salaam, so the whole Greece crisis, the rumbles that it might have for South Africa wasn’t discussed?

Themba Maseko: No not at this meeting. Thank you very much.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS)