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President’s experts panel must be representative of society

There were rumours of conflict between Minister Bheki Cele and former commissioner Khehla Sitole, says the writer. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/ African News Agency (ANA) Archives

There were rumours of conflict between Minister Bheki Cele and former commissioner Khehla Sitole, says the writer. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/ African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Mar 26, 2022


By Zelna Jansen

In response to a parliamentary question about the appointment of the national police commissioner, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that he would follow the same process that he followed in the appointment for the national director of public prosecutions and the chief justice of the Constitutional Court and the judiciary.

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Section 207 of the Constitution provides that the president appoints the national police commissioner to control and manage the police service. The control and management of the police must be done in line with the national policing policy and the directions of the minister of police.

The Constitution also provides that the national commissioner appoints provincial commissioners with the concurrence of the provincial executive. If there is no concurrence the minister of police must mediate. Section 206 of the Constitution provides that the minister of police is responsible for policing and determines national policing policy after consulting the provincial governments.

Two centres of powers are therefore created. The intention of the Constitution was likely to create a system of checks and balances within the police structure. The Constitution provides that the president appoints both centres.

It also gives the president the power to remove them as well. There is therefore nothing inherently wrong with having two centres of power to keep a check on each other. There is no law, nor does it state anywhere in the Constitution that the president must consult the public in appointing his or her preferred candidate. However, transparency is one of the cornerstone principles in South Africa’s Constitution.

Transparency can be explained as the extent to which the government prioritises honesty and access to information to allow for effective public oversight. The principle of transparency is reflected throughout the Constitution. In fact, there is the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000.

Transparency is often seen as a major tool for citizens to hold public officials accountable and to combat corruption. In calling on the public to make inputs into the preferred candidate, the president is indicating to the public that he is willing to listen and take citizens on a journey away from secrecy and decisions made behind closed doors. Public input will be assessed through a panel of experts. In doing this, the president is placing a check on his executive power.

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The process can be seen as valid if the views of others are considered and taken on board. That will ensure that there is meaningful interaction on an input. It must be pointed out that even though the call is made to all South Africans, there are interested groups, non-profit organisations, experts, and universities that have been commenting and voicing their opinions on the status of policing in South Africa.

It is these views and perhaps even those of the opposition that must be seen to be considered. The president is also the leader of the ruling party that he must account to and the people who voted for his party. During elections, the party would have had a manifesto detailing its priorities in resolving the issues bombarding the ailing SAPS.

At this level, it is likely that the candidate put forward will be a cadre deployment. Meaning, a member that is loyal to the ruling party and will ensure that the policies of the party are implemented. Earlier this year, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, then deputy chief justice, released part one of the State Capture report.

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This report made public the minutes of the ANC’s deployment committee minutes from 2018 to 2021. Issues of legality are now being raised to some of the appointments to state-owned enterprises and other key public posts. A complaint has been lodged with the Public Service Commission.

These are some of the things the president and his appointed panel of experts must bear in mind. Then there is also the fact that the position of national police commissioner has become known as a “revolving door” since 2008 as no national police commissioner has completed his or her term. About seven people have held the position of national police commissioner.

Many have either left or were suspended. Reasons for their suspensions ranged from taking bribes, corruption allegations, findings by commissions of inquiry and dishonesty. All of this happened while crime statistics have shown that murder, kidnapping, assaults, and sexual assaults among others have been steadily increasing.

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The president should therefore not rush the appointment of the national police commissioner. Also, the panel assessing the public inputs should consist of a variety of experts, including experts at a community level, where crime is felt harshly by the poorest of the poor. The panel should not only comprise industry and university experts.

Lastly, it is important that the president consults with the minister of police and obtains his buy-in on the potential candidate. There were rumours of conflict between Minister Bheki Cele and former commissioner Khehla Sitole and that Cele was responsible for having the Special Investigating Unit investigate Sitole.

It is therefore important that the process of appointing the national police commissioner is transparent and for the public to have a say. But, equally important, is that the right candidate is appointed so that public confidence in the SAPS can be restored.

* Jansen is a lawyer and CEO of Zelna Jansen Consultancy.