Bills, bills, bills

By Deon de Lange Time of article published Dec 13, 2011

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With a number of contested pieces of legislation hogging the headlines this year – including the Protection of State Information Bill – it may have gone unnoticed that Parliament had a busy year in 2011, passing no fewer than 28 bills.

Of these, President Jacob Zuma has so far signed 19 into law – changing their status from bills to acts – while seven remain in the president’s in-tray

Two more bills are having the final touches put to them in Parliament and are expected to be sent to the president within the next few weeks for his signature – or in constitutional parlance, for “assent”.

New laws only come into force once they have been assented to by the president and published in the Government Gazette. And they come into effective operation on a date pre-determined either by the president or by the legislation itself.

Among the new laws passed this year is the Protection from Harassment Act, assented to on December 2, which provides greater protection and easier recourse to the law for victims of harassment who are not in a relationship with the offender (the Domestic Violence Act already provides for harassment that takes place within a relationship).

The act allows, among other things, for victims to apply directly to a magistrate’s court for a “protection order” that comes with a standby arrest warrant.

A person who contravenes this order could face immediate arrest if the victim can show that the conditions of the order were breached, and hands a copy of the order and the warrant to a police officer.

The law also includes mechanisms for dealing with cyber-stalking. Courts can now instruct the police to help identify and locate a cyber-stalker, and the police, in turn, can initiate an investigation of this nature even before a complaint has been lodged.

The Companies’ Amendment Act, signed by the president on April 20, gives minority shareholders in a traded company more rights than was the case under the 1973 act.

While the old act required shareholders to have at least 5 percent of a company’s voting shares before being allowed to propose resolutions at an annual general meeting, the new law says any two shareholders – irrespective of their holdings – can make such proposals.

The State Liability Amendment Act, which came into force in August, allows for the state’s assets to be attached if the state fails to comply with a “final court order sounding in money against the state”, and if certain other conditions are met.

The previous law prohibited the attachment of state assets, leaving claimants against the state high and dry. But the Constitutional Court has ruled such an exclusion to be unconstitutional, forcing the government to amend the law in this regard.

The Military Veterans’ Act, assented to on December 2, came in for much criticism, particularly from DA MP and defence spokesman, David Maynier, whose concerns about the bill included the fact that the government had “failed to properly cost the bill”, which is a legal requirement.

The law extends pension, health care, housing and other benefits to soldiers from the liberation Struggle.

Initial estimates suggested the bill could cost taxpayers anything from R20 billion to R62bn, depending on how many former soldiers eventually qualify, and the defence department has set aside R1.6bn for the first three years of its implementation.

Briefing Parliament earlier this year on the bill, Defence and Military Veterans Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla warned that SA could face instability similar to that caused in neighbouring Zimbabwe by former liberation soldiers.

This prompted opposition parties to object to having to pass a bill with a gun held to their heads.

The ANC nevertheless used its majority to pass the law.

The Correctional Matters Amendment Act, assented to on May 24, changed the medical parole system after a public outcry when fraudster Schabir Shaik was released on medical parole just two and a bit years into his 15-year sentence.

His early release was made possible by Section 79 of the Correctional Services Act, which states that any offender who is “in the final stages of a terminal illness” – based primarily on the evidence of his or her doctor – could be released “to die a consolatory and dignified death”.

Under the new regime, a doctor’s note would not suffice. An application for medical parole now requires a certified medical report from a doctor, supplemented by a further, independent medical report, both of which will be considered by “medical advisory boards” established in each correctional services region.

The board is empowered to call for more evidence from medical specialists.

The new law requires advisory boards to consider the following factors when deciding on medical parole: whether the medical condition existed at the time of sentencing (and was therefore already considered by the trial judge); any sentencing remarks by the trial judge; the type of offence and the length of the sentence outstanding (which makes it unlikely that the Shaik scenario will repeat itself); the offender’s previous criminal record, and the likelihood of his or her repeating the crime once out on medical parole.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act, signed into law on May 19, is aimed at strengthening the Independent Complaints Directorate, which is mandated to investigate misconduct by members of the SAPS and municipal police units.

ICD executive director Francois Beukman has explained that the act gives his unit more teeth by, for instance, requiring police commanders to notify the ICD of reported incidents of misconduct as soon as they become aware of them.

Failure to do so could result in a fine or even imprisonment.

The new law also requires the police management to act on the ICD’s disciplinary recommendations – previously this was left to the management’s discretion.

And for the first time the ICD is empowered to also investigate corruption-related allegations against police officers, but has been relieved of the time- and resource-consuming role of probing service delivery complaints against the police, with this task now left to the police management.

In June this year, Zuma assented to the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act, which provides for the establishment of bodies corporate to manage and regulate sections and common property in sectional title schemes, and empowers them to apply the rules applicable to such schemes.

The act also establishes a sectional title ombudsman as a dispute resolution mechanism, and calls for the establishment of a statutory sectional titles schemes management advisory council.

Hailed

The Municipal Systems Amendment Act, assented to on July 6, raised some controversy when, just before the local government elections this year, the influential SA Municipal Workers Union threatened to withhold electoral support for the ANC if the bill was enacted.

Zuma wisely chose to sign on the dotted line only after the elections – and after the union was given another opportunity to consult the government on the proposed law.

Hailed by the government as a “ground-breaking event for local government”, the new law makes it illegal for political office bearers to serve as municipal managers – or managers who report directly to municipal managers, such as chief financial officers.

The bill defines “political office” as any position of chairman, deputy chairman, secretary, deputy secretary, treasurer or any equivalent position – irrespective of what the party chooses to call such a post.

It also gives the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs the discretion to prescribe the set of “skills, expertise, competencies and qualifications” required to manage a municipality.

And the minister will be required to keep track of disciplinary action taken against municipal managers to prevent those found guilty of unlawful conduct offering their services to other, unsuspecting, local councils.

If a manager is found guilty of an offence, he or she will be prohibited from being employed at any municipality for the next 10 years.

l Other bills passed in Parliament this year include: South African Post Office SOC Ltd Bill (awaiting assent); Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill (awaiting assent); Civilian Secretariat for Police Services Act (enacted on May 19); Community Schemes Ombud Service Act (enacted on June 15); Refugees’ Amendment Act (enacted on August 26); Merchant Shipping (Safe Containers Convention) Act (enacted on July 20); Immigration Amendment Act (enacted on August 26); Rural Development and Land Reform General Amendment Act (enacted on May 19); Basic Education Laws Amendment Act (enacted on September 19); Appropriation Act (enacted on July 20); Division of Revenue Act (enacted on April 28); Science and Technology Laws Amendment Act (enacted on December 2); Tax Administration Bill (awaiting assent); Higher Education Laws Amendment Bill (awaiting assent); Government Employees Pension Law Amendment Bill (awaiting assent); Skills Development Amendment Bill (awaiting assent); Division of Revenue Act (enacted December 5); Adjustments Appropriation Bill (awaiting assent); Taxation Laws Amendment Bill and the Taxation Laws Second Amendment Act (both are being finalised in Parliament and will soon be sent to the president for assent).

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