The Portfolio Committee dealing with the Expropriation Bill is disregarding written submissions when deciding who to include in public hearings, according to business group Sakeliga.
This state of affairs puts the Committee in breach of its constitutional duty to follow a due and proper process, including proper and fair public participation. The committee should rectify its process, consider all written submissions, and accommodate all qualifying parties at its verbal hearings.
These inferences and demands for rectification are contained in a letter to the Committee from Sakeliga’s lawyers, dated 18 March.
“We became aware of the situation on 16 March, when Sakeliga was excluded from a schedule published by the Committee, for verbal presentations during the week of 22 March,” says Piet le Roux, Sakeliga CEO. “This, despite Sakeliga having duly delivered a written submission to the committee in February, and clearly stating in its submission the desire to make a verbal presentation during the hearings as well. It was only after intervention from our legal team yesterday that we were today offered a seat at the hearings. The question now is: how many other participants, who did not readily have a legal team at hand, are still excluded from the process?”
Upon further inquiry earlier this week, Sakeliga was informed by the Committee secretariat that it should have stated in the e–mail portion of its submission its desire to present verbally, and not as done usually in the attached PDF document.
“This novel and after-the-fact requirement is unacceptable,” says le Roux. “The most obvious conclusion is that the Committee is proceeding without reading the written submissions it received. Otherwise, it would have easily seen Sakeliga’s request to make verbal representations on the first page of its submission.”
Sakeliga understands that around 90 000 written submissions have been received. Many, if not most, would have followed the customary procedure of attaching their submissions – especially if extensive – by way of a PDF or Word document to the e-mail. At least dozens of thoughtful and legitimate participants, who would have requested in those submissions to participate in the hearings, are likely now being denied access to the full public participation process.
“We insist that the Committee reads and considers all submissions, and that it opens participation in the hearings to all those who requested to do so in their submissions. We note and support similar calls by other organisations, notably the Institute of Race Relations, in a detailed letter to the Committee on 18 March,” says Le Roux.