Address by Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Andries Nel, MP, at the opening of the regional office of the Public Protector in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal
9 Dec 2009
Public Protector, Advocate Thulisile Madonsela
Deputy Public Protector, Advocate Mamiki Shai
Acting Mayor of Newcastle, Councillor V Masina
Representative of the Mayor of the Amajuba district, Councillor ML Dlamini-Mthethwa
Councillors here present
Chief Magistrates, Stander and Ngwenya
Provincial Electoral Officer, Mr Mawethu Mosery
Inkosi SJ Nkosi
Office of the Public Protector Chief Executive Officer, Advocate Themba Mthethwa
Representatives of government departments including Home Affairs, South African Police and Education
Acting provincial Head of the Independent Complaints Directorate, Mr Len John
Ladies and gentlemen
Comrades and friends
In greeting you this morning let me also take this opportunity to convey the warm regards of the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Jeff Radebe, as well as his congratulations to you on the opening of the regional office of the Public Protector in Newcastle. I thank the Public Protector, Advocate Thulisile Madonsela, and organisers of this event, or the opportunity to share in this wonderful occasion with you today.
I have known and worked with Advocate Madonsela over many years, but this is the first time that I share a public platform with her in her capacity as Public Protector of the Republic of South Africa. It therefore gives me great pleasure to congratulate her publicly on her appointment. At the same time, I wish to acknowledge the excellent work done by her predecessor, Advocate Lawrence Mushwana, who is now the Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, with the assistance of the Deputy Public Protector, Advocate Mamiki Shai.
Programme director, Newcastle is well known for producing vast amounts of coal. What is not so well known is that it has also produced a rich abundance of leaders. One thinks of leaders of our liberation struggle such as Mac Maharaj, former Minister of Transport and General Siphiwe Nyanda, the Minister of Communications, sports leaders such as Helman Mkhalele, the late Sizwe Motaung, the late Samora Khulu and Bakkies Botha, artists such as Lucky Dube, L’vovo Derrango who all hail from Newcastle.
I mention these leaders and achievers because they demonstrate the indomitable spirit that characterises the people of South Africa. It is this spirit that enabled us to unite to defeat apartheid and to negotiate and implement what is universally recognised as one of the most advanced constitutions in the world.
It is this spirit that demonstrates that by working together as South Africans, by bringing together all sectors of our society, we can do more, better, faster and with fewer resources to achieve a better life for all.
It is the Constitution born of this spirit that provides for state institutions supporting constitutional democracy such as the Public Protector, the South African Human Rights Commission, Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, Commission on Gender Equality, the Auditor-General and the Electoral Commission. These institutions are generally referred to collectively as the “chapter nine institutions”.
The Constitution gives the Public Protector a wide mandate to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice. It gives the Public Protector equally wide powers to report on such conduct and to take appropriate remedial action. The only matters the Public Protector may not investigate are the decisions of our courts.
Explaining the thinking behind the creation of the Public Protector, former President Nelson Mandela said at the Africa Regional Workshop of the International Ombudsman Institution in 1996:
“We were mindful from the very start of the importance of accountability to democracy. Our experience had made us acutely aware of the possible dangers of a government that is neither transparent nor accountable. To this end our Constitution contains several mechanisms to ensure that government will not be part of the problem; but part of the solution.
“Public awareness and participation in maintaining efficiency in government within the context of human rights are vital to making a reality of democracy. Many South Africans can still recall a time when the face of the public service was hostile and a complaint could lead to victimisation or harassment, when access to justice seemed an unrealistic dream. In the new South Africa the face of the public service is changing radically.
“However, we are not yet out of the woods, much still need to be done in terms of transformation. In this sense, therefore, our Public Protector’s Office is not only a critical instrument for good governance. It also occupies a central place in the transformation of the public service by, among other means, rooting out the arrogance, secrecy and corruption so rampant during the apartheid years.”
What is very important, and perhaps most relevant here today is that the Constitution declares emphatically that the Public Protector must be accessible to all persons and communities. It is therefore encouraging that one of the very first statements made by the Public Protector soon after her appointment, say that: “Accessibility to all our people, including rural communities is a key challenge and a priority if I am to make a difference. I’ve noted the efforts of my predecessors to make the Office of the Public Protector accessible to communities in order to live up to the constitutional imperative of being accessible to all persons in the country. But I believe there is still a lot to be done and that the media can play a critical role in helping us reach everyone. It’s not just a matter of knowing that the Public Protector exists but its also knowing what matters can be brought to this institution and what recourse or outcomes can be expected.
“Accessibility efforts to date have included the establishment of nine provincial and seven regional offices. Regional offices can be found in the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga. Plans are afoot to open another office in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal in the near future.
Over and above these, there are mobile offices in Limpopo, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal that help us reach far flung areas in these provinces. Through our outreach unit we also hold clinics and workshops monthly in different areas of our provinces to spread the word about our existence and the services we offer. Staff also takes new complaints during such activities.”
The importance of access to justice was stressed by President Jacob Zuma in his address to the Second Judicial Conference earlier this year when he stated that:
“When we talk of judicial transformation and access to justice, we are talking about three issues in particular. We want to ensure that even the poorest of the poor do enjoy access to justice. Secondly, that the justice that people access is of a high standard and thirdly, that justice is attained without undue delay”.
It was therefore very encouraging to hear the Public Protector say soon after her appointment, that: “Another critical challenge I’ve identified is the turnaround time for investigations. This is particularly the issue on small cases such as pensions, child grants identity document (ID) applications and billing queries at local government. I have noticed that some of the matters take more time than it is necessary and this impact negatively on the turnaround time. We need to really improve on that as a matter of urgency. In this regard we need cooperation from government departments, provinces, local government and parastals.
It should not take six months or more just to find out what is holding up a grant application, a pension application, an ID application, an appeal application or a Reconstruction and Development Project (RDP) house application. Even to explain an adverse decision should not take a long time. The only matters that should take a bit longer are those where we request or direct that a decision be reconsidered”.
As government, we remain committed to promote access to justice. For this reason, it fits this occasion to talk about bringing the Office of the Public Protector closer to the people and making it more effective in protecting the rights of all people, but especially the poor and vulnerable. We must talk about this because the office we are launching today will be meaningless if people cannot see it effectively dealing with their complaints.
Like other offices of the Public Protector all over the country, the office we are launching today should be regarded as an integral part of the community it will serve. In fact, this office can only function properly if it enjoys the complete trust and confidence of this community. André Marin, Ombudsman of Ontario, posed the following challenge to his colleagues when said in an address to a Joint Ombudsman conference in Montreal in April 2009:
“You need to ask yourself, is your office helping people? Are you delivering value to the public and your organisation? Are you exposing waste and cutting through bureaucracy? Most importantly, are you getting results and does anyone know about them?”
We, encourage all South Africans to ensure that the Office of the Public Protector enjoys trust and confidence of the people of South Africa, and that it is more effective in advancing our constitutional democracy. We must do this because we have a collective responsibility to make our democracy work.
However, for the Office of the Public Protector to effectively discharge its constitutional and legislative responsibility, we have to defend its independence. This means that we have to ensure that all the offices of the Public Protector, including the one we are launching today, remain subject only to the Constitution and the law and deal with all the complaints without fear, favour or prejudice. Neither a person nor a state organ must interfere with the functioning of the Office of Public Protector.
The office of the Public Protector is very important to democracy, especially in a country like South Africa in which the majority of people were subjected to oppression and injustices that were perpetrated by the apartheid regime. It is institutions like the Public Protector which must ensure that that the vision contained in our Constitution is realised for all citizens, especially poor and vulnerable.
As government, we are committed to work with independent institutions created to support our constitutional democracy such as the Office of the Public Protector, without compromising their independence. As the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, we have a political responsibility to support this office. It is for this reason that we will do every thing required of us by the law and the Constitution to assist in ensuring the proper, effective and efficient functioning of all the offices of the Public Protector.
In his state of the nation address earlier this year President Jacob Zuma identified five national priorities. These are the creation of decent work and sustainable livelihood, education, health, rural development and food security as well as the fight against crime and corruption. These priorities are mutually dependent and reinforcing. They require united action by all of us to achieve. They require an active and organised civil society working together with a strong, efficient and clean public service in a developmental state.
It will be so much more difficult to achieve the goal of improved healthcare if there are corrupt staff in our hospitals and clinics who steal medicine and grant tenders to charlatans who fail to deliver or who bleed the scare resources of the state by overcharging for basic items through tenders that were awarded through corrupt means.
We will struggle to achieve the improved education that our nation needs if there are corrupt teachers and administrators who corrupt the process of purchasing stationery and text books and literally take bread out of the mouths of schools children by eating money intended for school feeding programmes. We have established a number of mechanisms to fight corruption, maladministration and the inefficient use of public resources such as the special investigating unit, anti-corruption hotlines, whistle blowing legislation, specialised units in the South African Police Service (SAPS) such as the Hawks. We urge all citizens to make use of these mechanisms in addition to the Office of the Public Protector.
We call upon all local leaders to assist community members to address problems facing them. If they cannot be assisted, we expect these leaders to assist in the process of referring complaints to the office of the Public Protector. In the same vein, we encourage law enforcement agencies and other government departments to work with and assist the Office of the Public Protector in its investigation of the complaints that are brought to it.
Former President Mandela said very clearly that “people must be encouraged to speak out against maladministration with the surety that their complaints will be taken seriously and in confidence”.
Programme director, fifteen days ago we embarked on 16 Days of Activism to highlight 365 days of ongoing struggle against violence against women and children. This year’s theme is ‘Don’t Look Away, Act Against Abuse’. Tomorrow we will be commemorating International Human Rights Day. During this period we also commemorated World AIDS Day on 1 December under the theme: ‘I am responsible, we are responsible, South Africa is taking responsibility’. The 2009 World AIDS Day heralds a new era in the country’s collective effort in the response to HIV and AIDS.
The theme encourages everyone in South Africa from individuals, communities, businesses and government to take personal and collective responsibility to stop new HIV infections, provide care and support to those living with HIV and to ensure access to treatment for all people in need. I am responsible calls on:
* everyone to know their HIV status by testing regularly for HIV
* young people to delay having sex for the first time
* young people to make informed choices to prevent unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection
* sexually active people to be faithful to their partners and to use condoms each time they have sex
* pregnant women to test for HIV early in their pregnancy and to use condoms each time they have sex
* those with tuberculosis (TB) to test for HIV and those with HIV to test for TB so that they can get the right treatment.
We are responsible calls on:
* couples to talk about their relationships and how they can protect each other from HIV infection. Couples can protect themselves by remaining faithful to each other, testing for HIV together and always using condoms
* men, women, families and healthcare workers to support pregnant women so that they can make decisions to protect their children from HIV
* communities to provide care and support to those living with and affected by HIV, in particular orphans and vulnerable children
* communities to take action and speak out against violence against women
* communities to stop stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV
South Africa is taking responsibility:
Government and all sectors of society represented in the South African National AIDS Council are providing leadership to ensure that:
* every South African can prevent HIV infections and know their HIV status
* pregnant women can access Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission services
* all those with tuberculosis (TB) can access TB drugs
* all HIV positive people can access antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.
We call on all those present here today to take hands in the struggle against violence against women and children. Don’t Look Away, Act Against Abuse. We call on all those present here today to take responsibility and defeat HIV and AIDS.
In conclusion, I am honoured to be part of opening the Newcastle regional office of the Public Protector; I wish the office well in its very important work. I trust that it will promote public accountability and good governance thereby contributing to realising the vision set out in our Constitution of healing the divisions of the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights, a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by the law, a society that improves the quality of life of all citizens and frees the potential of each person.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
9 December 2009
Source: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (http://www.doj.gov.za/)
Issued by: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
9 Dec 2009
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