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