Are commissions of inquiry a waste of time in SA? Experts share their views

Are commissions of inquiry in South Africa worthwhile?

Presenter Eusebius McKaiser hosted a panel discussion looking at the track record of various commissions since 1994 and whether or not they have been conducive to justice.

Political activist Dr. Dale McKinley says many commissions have been reduced to their entertainment value because wrongdoers are treated with impunity.

McKinley argues that the Commissions Act 8 of 1947, the enabling piece of legalisation, is fundamentally problematic and needs to be reformed because it gives the President carte blanche on what to do with inquiry findings.

Commission of inquiry, as we've found over the last 20 years, can basically be merry-go-rounds. All the serious testimonies can be given, but nothing ever happens partly because of the legislative framework for the commissions themselves.

Dr. Dale McKinley, political activist, independent writer and researcher

He says that inquiry recommendations must result in prosecution or some form of punitive action where there is prima facie of wrongdoing and criminality.

Nothing in terms of real prosecutions has happened. We have impunity. If we have impunity, then the commissions are interesting and entertaining... but are a huge waste of time and energy.

Dr. Dale McKinley, political activist, independent writer and researcher

Meanwhile, public law expert Cathy Powell says commissions of inquiry are legal processes aimed at fact-finding, but they are not courts of law.

Powell claims that South Africans have inflated expectations of commissions of inquiry, while some political matters should be in fact solved by Parliament and the Executive.

One of the reasons we have inflated expectations of commissions of inquiry is because we have inflated expectations of courts. We tend to think they can solve political problems.

Cathy Powell, Senior Lecturer in Public Law at UCT

At the same time, Corruption Watch's investigative head Deborah Mutemwa-Tumbo says civil society has a role to play in ensuring that there is justice following a commission of inquiry.

She says there must be transparency and accessibility to all the reports, findings and recommendation.

To the extent that the criminal justice system and the Executive does not act, we look to society to add the political pressure... When the truth is out there, we have to be active citizens.

Deborah Mutemwa-Tumbo, Head of Legal & Investigations at Corruption Watch

The panellists discuss several examples including the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into arms deal corruption, the Farlam Commission into the Marikana massacre, the Nugent Commission for Sars and the Zondo Commission into state capture.

Listen to the in-depth discussion on The Eusebius McKaiser Show:


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