SA Commission of Enquiry: A waste of taxpayers’ money?

This article said more than one could say about the way in which taxpayers’ money’s wasted in useless and “toothless” in the words of Mpumelelo Mkhabela of Sunday Times and The Times.

“What is the point if their recommendations are simply shelved, asks Mpumelelo Mkhabela in Sunday Times, South Africa’s weekly and most read newspaper.

“Taxpayers are footing the bills for commissions of inquiry and panels of experts whose work is often then discarded by the government.
The political elite and policymakers have developed an unseemly style of decision-making: rent an expert panel or commission of inquiry, whose report will gather dust in the corridors of power.

These bodies are expected to either explain away the issues for which they were appointed to proffer advice, confirm predetermined political conclusions, be the facade of alleged spirited attempts to find a solution and, perhaps even more cunningly, be used as mere legal and procedural tools to legitimise what would otherwise have been unlawful decisions.

The appointment in December 2006 of an independent panel to assess parliament’s ability to perform its constitutional duties falls squarely into the rent-an-expert-panel approach. For those who had watched the institution miss opportunities to hold the executive to account and seen how it and ruling party authoritarians had reduced the legislature to an appendage of Luthuli House, the appointment of a high-profile panel of 11 experts was a bold move.

This week, the panel published its recommendations in a glossy 104-page report. Although the report is not of the standard one would have expected , it contains some noble recommendations. These include barring a member of parliament convicted of corruption, fraud or a similar offence from serving in the institution.
It also calls on parliament to revisit the arms deal investigation thwarted by the ANC.

In the true tradition of the rent-an-expert-panel approach, national assembly speaker Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde said the report would be shelved and only be decided on by the next parliament.
It is evident that the panel was meant to give the impression that parliament took seriously the African Peer Review Mechanism, which includes self-assessment of the legislature.

The report also raises concerns about the shelving of an earlier commissioned report that had recommended wide-ranging reforms to sharpen the teeth of Chapter 9 institutions, including the Human Rights Commission, Electoral Commission and Office of the Public Protector, whose roles are to support and strengthen democracy.
Chaired by former cabinet minister Kader Asmal, the ad hoc committee on the review of Chapter 9 institutions published its 267-page report in July 2007, almost a year after the national assembly had appointed it to probe the effectiveness of these institutions.

It made noble recommendations, too. Among these were the merging of independent institutions dealing with human rights to prevent ministers from interfering with the appointment of heads of these institutions, the establishment of a code of conduct for these institutions, and making them accessible to the public.
The national assembly adopted the report and undertook to form a committee to deal with issues regarding Chapter 9 institutions, but nothing substantial has materialised.

The failure by parliament to substantially consider the work done by Judge Sisi Khampepe, appointed by former president Thabo Mbeki to investigate the location of the Scorpions, is arguably the most glaring indication that when it doesn’t suit certain political interests, expert opinion is as pointless as if it never existed.
Consequently, the Scorpions are being disbanded despite Judge Khampepe having found that there was “nothing jurisprudentially unsound” in having the investigating unit remain under the National Prosecuting Authority. W here she found faults, including the lack of a proper complaint mechanism in the workings of the unit, she proposed remedies.

Judge Khampepe’s time was wasted and the judiciary was robbed of a member during the period she headed the inquiry.
Mbeki is partly to blame for the obsoleteness of Judge Khampepe’s proposals, because he canned the report.

Similarly, the Ginwala Commission, which probed the fitness, or lack of it, of Vusi Pikoli to hold office as head of the NPA, had its recommendations — that he be reinstated — rejected by President Kgalema Motlanthe on incomprehensible grounds.
Because Mbeki no longer wanted Pikoli as NPA head, he suspended him and set in motion the legal requirement of establishing an inquiry to legitimise his axing. Motlanthe was merely executing Mbeki’s idea, which incidentally suited the new ANC leadership well because it would open space to fill the post with their own, probably amenable, candidate.

Except for unearthing what others in government may regard as unpalatable truths about executive interference in the NPA in the prosecution of police chief Jackie Selebi, the Ginwala inquiry was a waste of public resources — another classic case of a rent-an-inquiry strategy.

In a similar approach a few years ago, the government overturned the recommendations of its own panel on electoral reforms.

The panel had recommended a hybrid electoral system that combined party lists, which encourage party sycophancy, and the constituency-based system of electing MPs to ensure public accountability. The report was shelved.
The panel on the assessment of parliament also calls for a mixed electoral system, because it found that MPs were beholden to party bosses instead of acting in the public interest.

But how many panels are required to make a similar point before their recommendations are taken seriously?

It’s about time decision makers treat expert panels with respect , especially when the public has had a meaningful say in their recommendations.
Alternatively, as the Greens would say, spare the forest instead of printing glossy reports destined for the dustbin”.

It must have left you breathless as it did me, I think!

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