South Africa: Human Rights Budget Poser

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The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development is to approach its Appropriations counterpart in Parliament to discuss the issue of National Treasury's refusal to increase the budget of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

Committee Chairperson, Mr Luwellyn Landers, said certain entities in the country were seen to be delivering a valuable service and therefore their budgets were adjusted positively. "We should not make light of this. Treasury is easily amenable to give them more funding," he claimed.

In its Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report for 2012 the Committee requested the Treasury to increase the budget of the SAHRC, but instead most of the entities and Chapter 9 institutions reporting to the Department of Justice had their budgets cut after the Department's budget was cut by about R600m. Only the Public Protector escaped this fate, and got a budget increase.

The SAHRC appeared before the Committee to brief it on the Promotion of Access to Information Report. The issue of the SAHRC's budget was first raised in the meeting, the last meeting of the Committee for the year, by committee member, Mr John Jeffery. "We requested the increase in budget as the Commissioners could for example not travel to fulfil their mandate. It seems that whatever Treasury thinks is 'sexy' gets a budget increase while others do not."

Mr Jeffery encouraged the Committee to take the issue further in the parliamentary structures. "We cannot let it rest. The SAHRC is already worked to the bone."

Adv Lawrence Mushwana, chairperson of the SAHRC, thanked the Committee for having tried to have the organisation's budget increased. Without the extra funding the SAHRC could not do any outreach work, which was needed in deep rural areas of the provinces, he said.

"What we receive currently is just about enough for salaries. When we want to litigate we have to use pro bona attorneys as we don't really have the funds for that. I do not think human rights can be so cheap that they can be trod on?

The SAHRC delivery should be debated and it should be given an opportunity to state its case to National Treasury, he added.

Ms Preggs Govender, deputy chairperson of the SAHRC, added that without the necessary resources, they could not have regular clinics to inform the public of the role and operations of the SAHRC.

"If people knew how a Chapter 9 body operates, they would realise they don't have to take to the streets when they are frustrated. It is important that we get the resources if we want to address human rights substantially."

Mr Landers assured the SAHRC that the Committee would try its level best to address the issue but added "we can't give you any promises".

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