The CFCR is concerned that such a critically important Amendment Bill was published for public comment at the start of the festive season. Most businesses and civil society organisations close for the year and only re-opened early in January 2020. It appears that concerns about the timing of the publication of the Amendment Bill were discussed at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on 3 December 2019, following a letter received from Agri SA, but Parliament’s legal services apparently informed the Committee that a similar process had been followed with Bills in the past.
However, it must be emphasised that although there have been 17 Amendment Bills proposing amendments to the Constitution, this is the first time that the South African public will be faced with an amendment to a right in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights forms a “cornerstone of democracy in South Africa” and it is therefore vital to ensure meaningful public participation.
The Ad Hoc Committee is pushing to finalise public deliberation and adoption of the Amendment Bill before its deadline of 31 March 2020. However, public engagement on the proposed amendment cannot be rushed. This is the first opportunity for the public to engage with the formulation of the proposed amendment to section 25 of the Constitution.
The public hearings that Parliament’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee undertook in the middle of 2018 were distinct from the current process, as they focused on getting the views of the public on the necessity of expropriation without compensation and did not relate to the nature of the proposed amendment.
If the Ad Hoc Committee is unable to meet its deadline of 31 March 2020, the CFCR urged the Committee to approach the National Assembly to extend its deadline so as to avoid jeopardising the opportunity for meaningful public participation. At a land dialogue workshop hosted by the Ad Hoc Committee in November 2019, Parliament’s legal advisers confirmed that the Committee may approach the National Assembly to request an extension but there is no guarantee that the extension would be granted.
In light of the critical need to ensure adequate and meaningful public participation on such an important Amendment Bill, the CFCR believes that the Ad Hoc Committee should consider this request urgently and if unable to meet its deadline, request an extension from the National Assembly.
Issued by the Centre for Constitutional Rights
14 January 2020