Parliament’s secrecy hinders gender commission appointments

Hiding information undermines public participation and raises questions about the candidates

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26/09/2022 11:26:55

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Parliament’s secrecy hinders gender commission appointments

A third of the candidates for commissioners of the Commission on Gender Equality should be crossed off the list, OUTA has told the parliamentary committee considering the appointments.

“Of the 24 shortlisted candidates, eight candidates raise red flags and should not be considered,” says OUTA in a submission on the appropriateness of the candidates.

OUTA’s submission list eight preferred candidates, and notes that the remaining eight “appear to be generally suitable”.

The submission, from OUTA’s Advocate Stefanie Fick, was sent to MP Claudia Nonhlanhla Ndaba, chair of the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, which is running the appointment process.

Although the appointment process is open for public comment, it is hampered by secrecy around the candidates.

The candidates’ CVs are not available for the public to see.

After civil society organisations raised this problem with the committee, the committee made it clear that it regards 14 days for comment as reasonable, that it will decide how much information the public will get, that the information on the candidates’ experience withheld from the public was made available to parliamentarians, and cited the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) as blocking public access to information. “There is no statutory provision which enjoins the extent of disclosure to be made public,” wrote the committee to the organisations.

OUTA believes this deliberately excludes the public from meaningful participation and is not in keeping with the constitutional requirement of public participation.

This raises concern about what is being hidden about the candidates. We believe POPIA is being used as an excuse, as it is reasonable to keep candidates’ identity numbers and addresses private, but not their experience.

Based on the available information, OUTA has assessed the candidates.

“OUTA has reviewed the 24 candidates’ list of qualifications as well as publicly available information on the individuals. This screening considered information as found in national databases and social media platforms. Not having their CVs hampered the vetting and validation purposes, curtailing the ability to track employment history and work experience. It is impossible to gauge integrity, honesty, skills and expertise. It is impossible to prove the candidate has demonstrated extensive knowledge of gender issues, the ability to advocate for gender equality,” says OUTA’s submission.

“OUTA has maintained in the 18 July 2022 submission that the candidates must be South African citizens who are fit and proper persons for appointment to the Commission and are broadly representative of South African community, have a record of commitment to the promotion of gender equality and have applicable knowledge of and experience in matters connected with the objects of the Commission,” says OUTA’s submission.

OUTA noted that even among the top candidates, there are concerns about some that their qualifications do not seem particularly relevant and it is not clear how they would add value to the commission.

OUTA reasons for disqualifying the eight with red flags include: allegations of corruption or criminal behaviour; concerns over directorships and potential conflicts of interest, particularly when co-directors are state employees; political affiliations; lack of any evidence of suitability; or having been under debt review.

More information

A soundclip with comment by OUTA's Parliamentary Engagement and Research Manager Rachel Fischer is here.

The comment by OUTA and other civil society organisations to Parliament on the appointment process earlier this month is here

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