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General: Sona clarifies Expropriation Bill status

Publish date: 14 February 2020
Issue Number: 4876
Diary: Legalbrief Today

‘Government stands ready – following the completion of the parliamentary process to amend section 25 of the Constitution – to table an Expropriation Bill that outlines the circumstances under which expropriation of land without compensation would be permissible’. This is according to the official version of yesterday’s State of the Nation Address (Sona). Legalbrief Today has regularly reported on and questioned the timing of a 17 December announcement that Cabinet had approved the release of a revised draft for another round of public comment. Yesterday’s pronouncement on the matter explains why the document has never materialised, confirming the inaccuracy of the media statement concerned, notes Pam Saxby for Legalbrief Policy Watch.

On other impending legislation, the 2020 Sona offered nothing new. Each development mentioned by President Cyril Ramaphosa has already been the focus of a Legalbrief Policy Watch report published when the news was fresh. Against that backdrop, he referred to forthcoming amendments to the 1998 Domestic Violence Act (‘to better protect victims in violent domestic relationships’) and the 2007 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences & Related Matters) Act (‘to broaden the categories of sex offenders whose names must be included in the national register’ and ‘tighten bail and sentencing conditions in cases that involve gender-based violence’). He also mentioned a ‘Procurement Bill’ to be tabled in Parliament ‘soon’ with a view to further empowering ‘black and emerging businesses’ and advancing ‘radical economic transformation’.

On matters of policy, Ramaphosa expounded at length on upcoming interventions aimed at addressing ‘the crisis of youth unemployment’. These feature in a draft national youth policy gazetted last Friday for comment and will apparently be prioritised over the next five years – in some cases ‘funded by setting aside 1% of the budget’ by way of ‘top slicing’, which the President said will require belts to be tightened and resources redirected. He also spoke of ‘a new land allocation beneficiary selection policy’, which ‘includes compulsory training for potential beneficiaries before land can be allocated to them’. The proposed new policy was released on 3 January for comment.

Other developments featured in the Sona included an ‘undertaking’ by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) ‘to conclude the licensing of high demand spectrum … via auction before the end of 2020’. In fact, Icasa’s most recent statement on the issue promised an announcement on the remaining process before the end of June – along with a likely spectrum allocation date. Ramaphosa also confirmed that moves are afoot to secure a commitment from ‘large mobile operators’ to ‘deep cuts’ in data prices ‘across pre-paid monthly bundles’; ‘additional discounts targeted at low income households’; ‘a free daily allocation of data’; and ‘free access to educational and other public interest websites’.

The President left it to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s 2020/21 Budget speech to provided details on ‘the establishment of a state bank’ with the aim of ‘extend(ing) access to financial services to all South Africans’. The Minister may also be persuaded to elaborate on government’s commitment to undertake ‘far-reaching economic reform measures’, including those contained in a National Treasury discussion paper released last year. However, in the absence of a timeline this may not have been quite what private sector stakeholders had hoped for. Although at least water use licence applications that once took ‘up to five years’ to process ‘are now issued within 90 days’ – and, ‘through the Bizportal platform’, not only can a company be registered ‘in one day’ but Unemployment Insurance Fund and South African Revenue Service registration can also be dealt with and a bank account opened.

According to a guide to the Sona published yesterday by Parliament, its purpose is to give the President ‘an opportunity to speak to the nation on the general state of SA; to reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within the domestic and global contexts; to account to the nation on the work of government; and to set out government’s programme of action (for the coming year)’. In all fairness, yesterday’s Sona accomplished that. However, ‘traditionally’, the President uses the Sona to make ‘key government announcements’ – which (excluding much-needed clarity on the status of the Expropriation Bill) he unfortunately did not do.

Given the perilous situation in which the country finds itself, can SA afford all the pomp and ceremony associated with an annual Sona? This year’s ‘trimmed down’ event is estimated to have cost a whopping R4.7m (IoL). And is it appropriate for anyone paid from the public purse – elected representative or state employee – to parade along a red carpet (IoL) in a gown quite possibly worth more than the average employed citizen earns in several months? No wonder the President chuckled at the enthusiasm with which MPs responded to his announcement of moves afoot to ‘open up and regulate the commercial use of hemp products’ and ‘formulate policy on the use of cannabis products for medicinal purposes’. Some are already out of touch with reality.