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An amendment to the Ipid Act is on the cards, finally. The legislation governing the Independent Police Investigative Directorate is as flawed as the process to appoint the head of Ipid, because ultimately it comes down to the discretion of one person – the minister of police.

In July Minister Bheki Cele announced his selection of Jennifer Dikeledi Ntlatseng as the new Ipid executive director (ED). The parliamentary portfolio committee on police (PCP) has endorsed his nomination, but it has also begun work on an amendment bill that will address various gaps and shortcomings.

Corruption Watch (CW) has participated in the issues around the selection of a new permanent Ipid head since 2019, when its former ED Robert McBride stepped down at the end of his contract in February that year. But even before then we had launched campaigns for transparency, fairness, public participation, and objectivity in the appointments of crucial positions such as the public protector, deputy public protector, national policer commissioner, and most recently, the auditor-general.

Now, the PCP is supporting amendments to the Ipid Act. In a statement issued on 15 July, the committee said: “there was a need for a wide-ranging amendment of the Ipid Act to ensure that it is responsive to the current environment and addresses identified gaps.”

One of those gaps that concerns CW is that although 17 months had lapsed after McBride’s departure before a new ED was appointed, the act stipulates this must be done within a year – and yet there is no sanction for a police minister who acted outside the law by not adhering to the deadline. This would have been 28 February 2020, had Minister Bheki Cele abided by the Ipid Act.

The committee has asked for an explanation, saying it has “instructed the Ministry of Police to submit a comprehensive report for the committee’s next meeting on why there was a breach of Section 6 (5) of the Ipid Act in the delay in introducing the nominee to Parliament”. The committee will also await a comprehensive vetting report on the candidate.

Section 6 (5) states: In the case of a vacancy, the Minister must fill the vacancy within a reasonable period of time, which period must not exceed one year.

Committee concerned about weak legislation

During a virtual meeting held on 22 July, at which the PCP considered its report on the appointment process, chairperson Tina Joemat-Petterson noted “the necessity to amend the Ipid Act urgently”. She added that the current Ipid Act did not give the committee the sole responsibility to appoint the Ipid head, and furthermore, the committee did not want a repeat of the appointment process that occurred.

She refers not just to the legislative breach – during the deliberation process CW noted regrettable occurrences that included “political mudslinging, the weaponisation of feminist values to suit a political decision, and the questioning of civil society organisations who dared use their constitutional right to participate in parliamentary proceedings and raise the necessary concerns in relation to the selection processes”.

Joemat-Petterson stressed, during the virtual meeting, that the PCP must be given the opportunity to do interviews, as well as to review candidates’ CVs. However, Dr Petrus Groenewald of the FF+ disagreed with Joemat-Petterson regarding amendment of the act to allow interviews. According to the rules of Parliament, he said, the PCP already has the power to hold interviews with the candidates in the interest of making the best decision possible. But since the Act was being amended, he added, this should be included in the amendment for more clarity.

MPs did agree that the amendment should particularly focus on the manner in which the Ipid head is appointed. Joemat-Petterson requested that this be prioritised in the amendment.

Some members noted that it was too late to lament the flaws in the process now that it was over. All relevant documents were sent to the members beforehand, said Joemat-Petterson, and they were asked to raise any concerns about the process. The only person who responded was DA MP Andrew Whitfield, whose concerns had been addressed. In fact, when Whitfield suggested that the Ipid head only be appointed after the Act was amended, her office immediately started the process of drafting an amendment bill. She further revealed that she has already seen the first draft of the bill.

MPs must be forthright about the shortcomings of the appointment process, the chairperson said, so that any valid and relevant concerns would be included at once in the amendment bill.