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Government glitch: The e-Gazette is in disarray, severely hampering work of legal community

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By Pam Saxby
08 Jul 2021 2

Pam Saxby played a key support role in the National Peace Convention, Codesa and related political transition processes. Working for what recently became Minerals Council SA, Saxby ran the minerals policy negotiation process, represented the industry in Nedlac’s development chamber and reported on economic and labour policy discussions in what is now Business Unity SA. She monitors and reports on public policy for Legalbrief Today.

Ongoing technical problems with publishing the Government Gazette online mean that the e-Gazette is in a mess, resulting in new disaster regulations not being published timeously. And the legal community is being seriously hampered in its work.

The Government Gazette may not be riveting reading, but it publishes important material affecting lots of people’s lives one way or another.

Until 2012, you had to collect hard copies from the nearest office of the government printer. But then came the e-Gazette, which is available online free of charge and is a boon for lawyers, compliance officers and people who use it as source material for research or media reports.

Every Friday morning at 8am, the National Gazette and National Regulations would be posted on the e-Gazette site. It happened like clockwork, with reassuringly monotonous regularity. Separate regulations and documents for public comment would be published later – and occasionally during other days of the working week, but always before 5pm.

That was until the Covid-19 State of Disaster kicked in.

Ever since March 2020, most new regulations and ministerial directives on lockdown restrictions and protocols have been gazetted after hours and backdated. So, anyone trying to keep abreast of latest developments, and remain fully compliant, has had no alternative but to monitor the site 24/7 – or pay someone to do so.

Inevitably, several hours pass before an e-Gazette materialises, providing details on pronouncements made by the president or one of his Cabinet ministers. Days can pass between a new, backdated set of regulations or directions appearing on the site, and a media statement from the minister responsible explaining why the measures have been imposed. 

In February, the site began crashing. Four months later, an investigation began. Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has been “perturbed” for some time, initially attributing the difficulties (apparently still being experienced) to a “power surge that damaged critical hardware” – which “might not have been just an accident”. When things were at their worst, the site could be down for as long as two days. Now, it only disappears for a few hours at a time.

But here’s the thing: a bit of forward planning on the part of certain ministers and their departments would make the timely release of important new regulations possible, even with “technical challenges” at the printing works.

Only this week, a backdated set of directions from Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa gave the Covid-19 protocol compliance officers at “sports and recreational bodies” 74 hours to submit “bio-safe environment” proposals to his department. Posted on the e-Gazette site on Tuesday evening, the notice appears at the bottom of the list of separate gazettes published that day – even escaping the eye of the government official responsible for updating the national government “What’s New” web page. It’s not easy to spot, especially if you expect the most recent notices to appear at the top of a list like that.

This last-minute set of ministerial directions also aligns sector-specific measures for preventing the spread of Covid-19 with the adjusted disaster management regulations for lockdown Level 4, as amended – which, on 27 June, reimposed certain restrictions until 11 July.

So, some time during the night of 6 July (possibly even in the early hours of the next morning), directions were issued confirming and elaborating on a set of regulations scheduled to be reviewed on 11 July (four days later) – but in place since 27 June. Something is wrong.

As for the 74-hour notice period beginning on 6 July, but only apparent a day later (even to seasoned Government Gazette readers), perhaps it’s best not to comment.

Coincidentally, according to Business Day, the Pretoria High Court recently “ordered the Government Printing Works… to print the publications every Friday without interruption or delay”. The ruling followed an urgent application from the South African Restructuring and Insolvency Practitioners’ Association.

Apparently, ongoing delays in publishing the advertisements of court orders, creditors’ meetings, sale-of-business transactions, and liquidation and distribution accounts has resulted in “huge pecuniary losses” for the association’s members. DM

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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  • All public notices and laws and such should be required to be published to a national freely available and searchable website.

    In an open democracy where so much is free and so much is pushed out there to be available all, why is it so hard to find all fully updated Laws and Regulations without being registered and paying on a website?

    A long time ago Microsoft started acts.co.za with free access and the interface wasn’t too bad. Now you must have a paid subscription. How can any party ask a fee for national legislation???? That’s like me charging a fee for listening to The Rolling Stones while I have no deal with the band.

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