May 22 2003 05:42:02:000AM Wyndham Hartley Business Day 1st Edition
DA spearheads new presidential pardon legislation
CAPE TOWN Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon has proposed legislation that will require the justice minister to inform victims of crime before recommending that criminals be granted presidential pardons.
Leon developed his Private Member's Bill for submission to Parliament after the controversial granting of presidential pardons to 33 prisoners last year. One of them committed murder within two weeks of his release. Dumisani Ncamazana, a former member of the Pan Africanist Congress's military wing, the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), killed Martin Whitaker in his East London shop during an armed robbery.
Leon said the procedure used to grant the pardons was not sufficiently transparent and the bill sought to ensure that the victims were consulted before pardons were granted.
He assured the parliamentary committee that the bill would not attempt to circumscribe the powers given to the president in terms of the constitution. The bill was rather aimed at ensuring that the justice minister, if asked to investigate applications for presidential pardon by the president, followed a prescribed procedure.
If Leon's proposal ever sees the light of day on the statute book it will require victims, investigators, prosecutors, prison officials and probation officers to be informed of applications before pardons are granted.
Leon explained that the bill was based on the law produced by Orrin Hatch in the US after then president Bill Clinton had pardoned 176 people shortly before leaving office. One of those pardoned by Clinton was a fugitive from US law enforcement agencies.
Leon said that he was aware that the president had the power to approve pardons without reference to the justice minister, and hence without taking the bill into account . This would call into question the degree to which the president had applied his mind to cases of granting pardons.
"The bill will promote transparency and consistency, will enable the minister to make an informed recommendation to the president by ensuring the participation of a wide range of interested parties. In controversial cases, it will create the opportunity to build up political opposition to any grant of executive clemency as, for example, the victims of the crime or their families express their opposition to any pardon after consultation," Leon said.
Ncamazana and his brother Siminikiwe were arrested, charged with murder and released then rearrested and charged with two murders.
Their victims were Whitaker and a taxi driver, Xolani Gongota. They were found guilty last December and sentenced to life and 34 years, and life and 79 years respectively.
When released on presidential pardon, Ncamazana was serving a life sentence for Apla attacks on the Highgate Hotel, shooting at a bus of workers from Da Gama textiles and killing three Baha'i Faith Mission members. He was refused amnesty by the Truth Commission.
Committee chairman Peter Hendrickse said the opinions of the relevant ministry would be sought and the bill would be debated in the committee.
The bill will succeed only if the committee makes a positive recommendation to the National Assembly.
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