Effect of laws on citizens will be scrutinised

Land reform and inequality will be the main focus of a high-level panel that will scrutinise the impact of South Africa’s laws on the lives of ordinary citizens.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete said last week that the panel, to be chaired by former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, would have a year to scrutinise the impact of legislation on the poor. The panel includes former auditor-general Terence Nombembe, academic Olive Shisana, FirstRand founder Paul Harris and former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni.

Mbete said the work of the panel would review legislation, assess implementation, identify gaps and propose action steps.

Deputy speaker of the National Assembly Lechesa Tsenoli told City Press the panel was in line with the decision of the ANC’s 2012 conference in Mangaung to accelerate transformation.

“You can almost couch it in the language of the ANC’s resolutions in Mangaung that [ask] how you radically deal with problems whose magnitude today is completely unacceptable and which have not yielded to tinkering,” said Tsenoli.

Tsenoli explained that while the key feature of most laws passed post-1994 was about repealing old legislation to be in line with the new Constitution, some of that work had not yielded the desired results.

Tsenoli said this meant strengthening good practice and “defeating old apartheid-inspired and discriminatory class divisions that reinforce those problems we are dealing with”.

“We can’t continue 21 years down the line and you still have those levels of inequality and inattention by the state machinery as a whole to those kinds of factors,” he added.

Mbete highlighted inequality, adding that the people she spoke to “strongly believe there is inequality in our society and, as South Africans, we did pass legislation in relation thereto”.

“We, here, are preoccupied with what happens after we have passed legislation. It’s all very well to pass laws and count how many you have passed.

“The point is: what is the impact on people’s lives? That is the issue we hope to have more insight into through the work that will be done by the panel.”

Tsenoli emphasised land.

“Land, land reform, land restitution – that is a key part. It’s both political in addressing what we often refer to as ‘national grievances’, the reason that led to the struggle in the first place in our country.

“Land as an asset is also a very potent economic means of production. Who has it, who controls it, what gets done on it is a critical component of that work … and access to land; who has jurisdiction over it?”

This is not the first independent panel appointed by Parliament. In 2006, Mbete, during her first stint as Speaker, appointed a panel to conduct an assessment of the Parliament of South Africa.

Among its recommendations, the panel suggested that Parliament should review the impact of the legislation it passes, but that Parliament should be capacitated to conduct such a review.

In 2012, then minister of justice and constitutional development Jeff Radebe published a discussion document on the review of the judiciary and an assessment of the impact of constitutional court judgments. Both are gathering dust.

This article was first published in City Press on 25 January 2016 

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