Criminal neglect?

2008-02-13 00:00

On Monday Judge Willie Seriti of the Pretoria High Court ruled that Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla had failed to exercise her constitutional duties diligently over the applications of 384 prisoners for presidential pardons. He gave her three months to deal with the applications, despite her insistence that she needed at least six months to “put a draft framework into operation” for the 384, who were but a fraction of more than 1 000 pending applications.

The prisoners, who are assisted by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), have been waiting four-and-a-half years for their applications to be dealt with, with no explanation from the minister for the delay. Further, she failed to respond to questions on the subject raised several times in Parliament, while an appeal to the Human Rights Commission proved fruitless. In light of all this the three-month stipulation seems generous.

What’s the reason for Mabandla’s “failure to exercise her constitutional duties diligently” in this matter? Does it spring from an unacceptable laziness or inefficiency, or an inability to grasp the scope of her constitutional duties? Perhaps. But it’s worth noting that her department had earlier managed swiftly and efficiently to process and send forward the applications of ANC and PAC members who had been granted pardons in 2002. From which cynics will conclude, with reason, that the tardiness — so blatant as to amount to contempt for the applicants — is related to their political affiliation and is a display of malice against the IFP.

Whatever the reason for the unconscionable delay, the judge’s ruling is to be welcomed, first because it puts Mabandla firmly in her place and should kick-start the complex process that should have been completed over four years ago. Second, it emphasises one of the most important roles of the judiciary in any democracy — to hold the executive accountable, and so endorses the absolute need for the judiciary to remain independent of the executive.

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