Much of the sting goes out of Expropriation Bill…..
The subject of expropriation, not necessarily of land but any property, has now reached the stage of a considerably watered down third Bill which has now been tabled and whilst there are grumbles from many quarters, it appears that the new Bill has not caused the same furore as its predecessors.
The long awaited Expropriation Bill (B4-2015) came before Parliament in the form for a briefing to the portfolio committee of public works attended by the minister of public works, Thulas Nxesi, the briefing itself remaining very much in the hands of the deputy minister, Jeremy Cronin.
Great emphasis was laid by both ministers on the difference between expropriation as a “public purpose” and expropriation “in the public interest”, a difference they said that was clearly laid out in South Africa’s Constitution.
Public purpose, public interest
Minister Nxesi in his introduction said if there was a need to put up electricity lines or build a road, it was then for a “public purpose” and he saw that there could be no argument – a statement which was later queried by opposition members.
However, minister Nxesi said, expropriating property for “public interest” had to pass a rigorous rationality test as stipulated in the Constitution but a major problem with all Bills previously tabled was that there was no recourse to the courts and on this issue the cabinet had decided to withdraw them. Jeremy Cronin seemed to come to the rescue with a far more detailed and rational presentation.
He argued that expropriation was an essential mechanism or tool for any state in any country to acquire property under certain instances but much emphasis had been laid in South Africa on the issue of land and white commercial farmers.
He admitted that whilst “public interest includes the nation’s commitment to land reform” in the Bill before them, a fact emphasised in the preamble to the Bill, the proposed legislation was very much in the nature of a mechanism to deal with expropriation rather than say who it applied to.
Expropriation just a “tool”
Minister Cronin added that this was one of many reforms taking place to bring about equitable access to all South Africa’s natural resources and reforms to redress the results of past racial discriminatory laws or practices. Such a preamble existed in much of South Africa’s legislation since 1984.
He said, “The Constitution requires “just and equitable” compensation to be determined by having regard of all circumstances without placing undue weight on any single or particular factor. National, provincial and local government were empowered to expropriate property to varying degrees through several pieces of legislation, he noted.
Deputy minister Cronin tracked the history of the Bill before them stating that the 1975 Expropriation Act was totally unconstitutional as it gave draconian powers to the state and was “wisely” withdrawn. A further 2007 Bill was also removed on these grounds and the current Bill was unable to be processed for Parliament before the 2014 elections.
In line with Constitution
However, he said, the Expropriation Bill B4-2015 seeks to ensure consistency with the Constitution and to provide uniformity of procedure of all expropriations without interfering with the powers granted to the expropriating authorities.
Opposition members claimed that the Bill enlarged upon the definition of “public interest” contained in the Constitution and the Bill could not do this constitutionally. Nor did the Bill talk to in broad terms to the issue of compensation, whether it be a commercial farm or alternative accommodation for a shack dweller.
They argued that the new Bill did not talk to the issue of the interest of a bank in terms of a mortgage and where the bank might stand on such issues. The Bill now tabled, minister Cronin said, detailed the manner in which the expropriating authority had to follow, as well as setting up the process of evaluation and the authority to do this “in a just and administrative way”.
On mortgages and loans from a bank, he said it was the bank that will be expropriated and not the individual.
Credibility of Bill challenged
DA member Masango contradicted this and said any agreement or loan was between a person and the bank and not the state and the bank and he asked how the Bill could have possibly got through the NEDLAC process.
He also raised the issue of poor people not be able to afford litigation if the process of expropriation was contested. ANC member Madlopha said “whilst the media had been rubbishing the Bill, saying that it targets white commercial farmers”, the Bill in her mind gave the state power to expropriate with only a simple notice to the property owner, a process which seemed to contradict with common law.
Blaming apartheid and more
Minister Cronin responded along the lines that in expropriation, the property clause in the Bill of Rights guided the process. Indeed, argument, he said, will no doubt occur on “just and equitable compensation matters” but this did not remove “the consideration of colonial injustice”.
It was the Constitution, he said, that insisted that in determining “justice and equitable” compensation it should include the process of “restitution”. Deputy Minister Cronin commented that expropriation did not just affect white commercial farmers and any compensation would consider the amount of bond outstandings.
He concluded that the new Bill was attempting to shorten the process of any litigation. He added that the NEDLAC findings on the Bill would be supplied to Parliament and suggested that the committee ask Agric-SA to appear before them to obtain their views.
Other articles in this category or as background
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ParlyReportSA New approach to land reform – ParlyReportSA