Business group Sakeliga today cautioned against state-regulated mediation processes in urgent matters relating to Covid19 regulations.
An unanswered request for mediation lodged on 2 May and further regulatory overreach on 12 May 2020 resulted in Sakeliga issuing an urgent application against the State on 15 May 2020. Sakeliga is asking the court to set aside several business licensing requirements, under which businesses are forced to seek pre-approval from the State.
The 2 May mediation request was made in terms of Regulation 13 of the State of Disaster Regulations published on 30 April. Receipt of this request was acknowledged by a number of state officials, but otherwise ignored.
Sakeliga then proceeded with its litigation and on 15 May served urgent papers on the President, on the Minister of COGTA and several others, including the National Corona Virus Command Council (NCCC).
The serving of papers prompted action. Late on Monday 18 May the State Attorney asked whether Sakeliga would still be willing to enter mediation. Sakeliga on 19 May indicated that it would agree, on condition that the mediation be initiated and finalised by Friday 22 May, and that it be undertaken without prejudice. Sakeliga also cautioned that the case had been set down for 26 May, that the Respondents’ opposing affidavits were still outstanding, and warned that it does not condone late filings.
Response from the Solicitor-General
On 22 May, twenty days after its initial request for mediation, Sakeliga finally heard from the Solicitor-General. Surprisingly, his office did not offer apologies for its delayed response, but instead accused Sakeliga of presenting “unconscionable” conditions and an attempt to “merely tick-the-boxes”.
Sakeliga takes exception to these allegations and the partial conduct of the office of the Solicitor-General.
“The Solicitor-General appears unable to impartially manage a government-facilitated mediation process as one would have hoped to glean from the wording of Regulation 13. It is unacceptable for a facilitator to become a party to a dispute. We conclude that the Solicitor-General has formed a detrimental and improper view of our conduct as well as the urgency of our case.”
State-sponsored mediation to be approached with caution
“I now consider it in the public interest to note the deficiency of state-sponsored mediation. Parties attempting this mediation risk facing a partial facilitator and the state delaying their cases, while suffering uninterrupted material harm under arbitrary and unlawful lockdown regulations. In our experience so far, state-sponsored mediation appears to be a fruitless exercise. Whether through its lack of urgency, capacity or otherwise, our experience is that the state is ill-equipped to effectively respond to urgent public disputes.”
“When considering alternative dispute resolution as an alternative to litigation, parties would be better served to approach impartial facilitators from the outset.”
“To all parties seeking to undo arbitrary and unlawful lockdown regulations, whether through alternative dispute resolution or litigation, I express our appreciation and best wishes.”
State late in filing responding affidavits
The respondents are yet to file opposing affidavits, despite being grossly late by now. For Sakeliga’s papers served on the parties on 15 May, click here.
Sakeliga is proceeding with its case, placed on the role of the Pretoria High Court for Tuesday 26 May.