PSIRA bill raises restriction on foreign ownership alarms bells

Jan. 31, 2014 (5 years, 9 months ago)

After being voted through the National Assembly towards the end of 2013, opposition MPs kicked up enough fuss to get the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment (PSIRA) Bill sent back to the Portfolio Committee on Police this year... only to get see it passed again on Wednesday 29 January, minutes prior to McBride’s endorsement; thereby making it another divisive week in Parliament with regards to all things police.

Following presentations from some top brass police within the PSIRA ranks on Tuesday, deliberations and arguments ensued among the Police Portfolio Committee, notably relating to the contentious clause setting up the new section 20(2)(c) which states:

“(c) if at least 51 percent of the ownership and control is exercised by South African citizens.”

In their presentation, Police Major-General Philip Jacobs and Secretary of Police Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane both raised concerns about the growing trend of private security companies becoming militarised, in many instances ostensibly acting as mercenaries in countries like Iraq and Israel. They spoke to the need for South African companies to avoid being involved in these sorts of developments abroad and alleged international law violations.

Following this, the conversations moved on to South African companies. Freedom Front plus MP, Pieter Groenewald asked the police representatives present, “Can we have an indication from department how many security companies there are in South Africa and how many have foreign shares?”

This prompted a stern rebuke to the PSIRA representative from Committee Chair Annelize van Wyk (ANC) who said that she had asked a similar question last year and followed it up by sending it in writing to the department. “We can’t excuse this delay”, she said.

PSIRA responded that while they understood why the Committee would require this information, their hands were effectively tied as legally private security companies have “no obligation to disclose if they have foreign ownership”. van Wyk in turn demanded that PSIRA supply the Committee with any list that the Department has, even if it is not a full one.

Throughout the deliberations, DA MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard made her objections to clause 20(2)(c) very clear. In the coffee break she told People’s Assembly that this aspect of the draft legislation was unacceptable considering the current economic climate. “Our Rand has had sustained weaknesses against other currencies recently... of all the developing countries currencies ours is one of the hardest hit. Now, because of this clause the headlines will read ‘companies expropriated’. Anglo American [for example] will refuse; they’ll just pack up and leave. Also what about smaller companies, like a locksmith, why should they hand over 51% of their business?” she said.

Kohler-Barnard went on to say that “PSIRA is dysfunctional. They have no capacity to monitor this. I’m telling you this will be challenged in court as no doubt they [ANC MPs] will bludgeon this through.”

When People’s Assembly asked ANC Committee Member Setlamorago Thobejane why they supported the clause in question, he said, “This is about the security of the nation. Issues related to security need to be controlled by South Africans. We are concerned about the interests of foreign countries and the inroads they are making, how their infiltration could put us under threat if they wanted to get involved in a coup attempt”.

He also mentioned the need to protect our own work force as the “private security [industry] has shown its potential to grow the economy and contribute to transformation”.

However, in the eyes of opposition MPs such as Kohler-Barnard this clause will have the opposite effect in that it will chase away foreign investment.

The foreign ownership debate aside, the PSIRA Bill has now been passed again by the Portfolio Committee on Police and will revert to the National Assembly imminently.



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