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The Foreign Service Bill was today tabled at the Select Committee on Trade and International Relations. The committee heard that the bill is intended to further South African foreign relations, by creating a unified foreign service.

The bill’s vision is that South Africa should be a successful, influential and leading member of the international community, and aims to strengthen accountability. Currently, there is no legislative framework to optimally support the mandate of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco).

Members engaged with the presentation and sought clarity on a number of issues, including the necessity of the bill and why it took over 25 years to implement.

Committee Member Mr Mandla Rayi said it seemed that a standard operating manual for human resources and administration could cover what Dirco wants. “It looks as though there is no need for a bill or an act for what Dirco wants to do, there should just be a policy. This bill is intended for staff management and an act to address issues of staff is unnecessary,” Mr Rayi said.

He also asked whether the state law advisor agreed to the constitutionality of the bill.

The Chairperson of the committee, Mr Eddie Makue, asked about the correctness of the phrase “creating a professional unified”, as contained in the bill. He also asked if any of the other departments impacted by the bill had raised reservations.

In response, the department said that there are many role-players in the foreign service and that they are difficult to manage through a policy. A Dirco representative said the department did not intend taking away the duties and responsibilities of officials at missions. The bill is intended to professionalise the service, with one command.

The Dirco representative also reported that provinces and cities compete with one another for investment opportunities. Other challenges include maintance of overseas properties, and administration and legal challenges.

Sibongile Maputi
20 February 2019