Department of Justice & National Prosecuting Authority Strategic Plans & Budget 2009/10

NCOP Security and Justice

31 August 2009
Chairperson: Mr T Mofokeng (ANC,FS)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Justice and the National Prosecuting Authority presented their respective strategic plans and budgets, bearing in mind that the NPA is a sub-programme of the DOJ. The Committee raised concerns on issues such as vacant magistrate and prosecutor posts that contributed to court delays which in turn unfairly prejudiced awaiting trial prisoners, break-ins at courts, and theft of dockets which were reported to be on the decrease.

Meeting report

The Department of Justice and the National Prosecuting Authority presented their respective strategic plans and budgets to the Committee. The delegation comprised of amongst others Adv Menzi Simelane Director General (DOJ), Dr Kotso De Wee Acting CEO (NPA), Mr Sibongile Mzinyathi (NPA), Ms Matshidiso Modise, Executive Manager: Human Resources Management (NPA), Ms Karen Van Rensberg, Acting Executive Manager: Strategy, Mr Mosalanyane Mosala Executive Manager: Office of the CEO (NPA), Mr Gordon Hollamby, Executive Manager: Finance (NPA) and Mr Rodney De Kock Director of Public Prosecutions Western Cape (NPA).

Adv Menzi Simelane, DOJ Director General, presented the Department’s strategic plans and budget. He outlined the three strategic goals of the Department: access to justice for all, enhancing organizational efficiency and transforming justice, state and society. Thereafter he continued with an in-depth breakdown of the five programmes of the Department: Administration, Court Services, Legal Services, National Prosecuting Authority and Auxilliary and Associated Services. He explained each programme’s strategic objectives. Adv Simelane continued with a breakdown of the Department’s budget. The Committee was given a breakdown of expenditure patterns of the Department for past three financial years as well as expenditure outcomes per programme and per economic classification. Some of the key observations were that there was improved departmental spending over previous years. Under-spending had also decreased considerably. March spending as a percentage of total spending was also down from previous years. The Committee was also given a breakdown of MTEF allocations by the Department. Adv Simelane concluded by highlighting some medium term spending pressures. Spending for the funding of the implementation of new legislation and for the review of the criminal justice system were some of the pressures identified.

Dr Kotso De Wee, Acting CEO: NPA, conducted the NPA presentation. He provided the Committee with an introduction to the strategic planning process. He noted that a situation analysis had been conducted. Thereafter a three year strategic plan had been developed which informed the Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) submission of the NPA. The Strategic Plan was then cascaded through the development of annual plans for business units. The Strategic Plan’s implementation was closely monitored by the Enterprise Performance Management Committee of the NPA.

The Committee was given an overview of the NPA’s budget. A breakdown of its expenditure for 2008/09 was provided as well as budget allocations per sub-programme. The sub-programmes were Public Prosecutions, Witness Protection, Directorate of Special Operations, Asset Forfeiture Unit and Support Services. A comparison was also made of budget allocations for 2008/09 and for 2009/10. The conclusion drawn was that there was a 17% increase in allocations overall.

Dr De Wee also identified key measurable objectives. Amongst those mentioned were:
- to increase number of cases finalised in all courts by 2%, from 311 488 in 2008/09 to 330 51 in 2011/12. - to remove proceeds of crime from the control of criminals by increasing the value of freezing orders from R330 million in 2008/09 to R420 million in 2011/12.

Dr De Wee in conclusion highlighted certain challenges that the NPA faced: vacancies and a review of the NPA’s structure were amongst those mentioned. [For detail on presentations refer to documents.]
Mr A Watson (DA, Mpumalanga) referred to the Department’s regional budgetary allocations and asked why there was no allocation for the Master’s Office for Mpumalanga. He also asked why there were no allocations to Mpumalanga when budgetary allocations had been made to all the other provinces.

Adv Simelane replied that only basic services were handled in Mpumalanga. Major issues were referred to Pretoria. The Director General said that the Department was working on the matter.

Dr De Wee stated that looking at the Director of Public Prosecutions budget of Pretoria one would find a specific portion for Mpumalanga.

Mr D Bloem (COPE, Free State) referred to the presentation documents that had been handed out and asked that documents be forwarded to members at least three days prior to the scheduled meeting. It would allow members the opportunity to peruse documents properly. He asked the Director General how many dockets had been stolen or had disappeared within the last financial year. Detail on the provinces and the courts from where they had been stolen from were also requested. Mr Bloem also asked at which courts were break-ins rife. He felt that criminals had no regard for the rule of the law if they were even breaking into courthouses.

Adv Simelane said that unfortunately he did not have the figures for the stolen dockets on hand. He did point out that dockets were usually stolen at courts and police stations. The Director General said that thefts at courts were not as common as it used to be. He noted that by the time dockets arrived at court they were already scanned into the system. Docket thefts were well organized. The issue was one of control. Adv Simelane pointed out that one or two dockets were stolen at courts per month. He also did not have the information of break-ins at courts on hand. The Director General said that he received a text message every time a security incident took place at a court. He received on average three text messages a month. Incidents were not always break-ins as sometimes money was stolen internally. Adv Simelane said that theft of money had taken place a week earlier in the North West Province. Incidents of theft would occasionally take place in Gauteng and perhaps the Eastern Cape and KZN. Security needed to be tightened in some areas. Management of money was however not a Department of Justice function.
Mr T Chaane (ANC, NW) asked if it was the Department’s intention to fill the 2000 vacancies and how many had been filled in the current financial year. He referred to magistrate posts that had to be filled and asked what the targets were. He said that prisons in the Northern Cape were full of awaiting trial prisoners as many courts had huge backlogs. Part of the backlogs was caused by the Legal Aid Board continually postponing its cases. He asked what action the Department was taking against the Legal Aid Board. He further asked if courts were using the traditional method of file storage as well as storage by way of information technology and how soon files were scanned into computer systems. He referred to the poor state of courts in small towns and asked what the Department was doing about revamping them.

Adv Simelane explained that the vacancies spoken about were those of Department staff. It was not magistrate vacancies. He stated that interventions were being put in place to deal with backlogs. The Legal Aid Board issue was also being addressed and the reasons for postponements were being looked into. Sometimes matters were postponed because too many cases were set down at court. Vacant posts in the Legal Aid Board and in the Office of the Prosecutor were being filled. The Director General noted that SA was an arrest friendly jurisdiction. There were just too many cases. The volume of cases was the problem. Adv Simelane noted that 99% of charge sheets were scanned in the same day. Scanning was not the biggest problem. He noted that the responsibility of court maintenance lay with the Department of Public Works. The Department was working with Public Works on the matter of court maintenance.

Dr De Wee added that the Department had filled 564 posts. He pointed out that by June 2010 another 200 posts would be filled.

Mr A Matila (ANC, Gauteng) felt that 2000 vacancies was far too high a figure. He asked for a breakdown of the figure within the Department. He also asked what was the point of requesting new budgets when the Department was under-spending its current budget. He stressed that there was a shortage of magistrates in many courts.

Mr M Mokgobi (ANC,Limpopo) referred to the spending of the Department during the last two months of its financial year and asked why there was a spike in its spending. He commented that it was a trend of many departments. The phenomenon was called dumping. Mr Mokgobi asked why there was not an adherence to financial management as far as expenditure was concerned.

Adv Simelane conceded that spikes in spending during the final months of the financial year had taken place in 2006 and 2007. He however emphasised that it was not a problem for the current financial year. Mechanisms had been put in place to address the issue.

Mr L Nzimande (ANC, KZN) asked the Director General whether it was true that magistrate posts were only advertised in January of each year. He asked what the reasons were for the practice. Why only once a year? He said that the same applied to prosecutors. He pointed out that in the Northern Cape there was one prosecutor per court and in Upington, a court stood empty. Courts often referred individuals for psychiatric evaluation that end up causing delays in court proceedings. He asked whether these psychiatric evaluation were the responsibility of the Department. What was the Department’s plan to deal with the case backlog at courts? He felt that not all matters needed to go to court, other avenues should be considered.

The Director General said that the Magistrates Commission was responsible for the recruitment of magistrates. The Commission met 3-4 times a year. The process of appointing magistrates was a cumbersome one. He said that persons were often sent for a 30-day psychiatric evaluation which was the responsibility of the Department of Health. The issue of dealing with matters other than by court processes was being considered.

Mr Mzinyathi added that one of the Department’s measurable objectives was to use alternative ways to bring about justice.

Adv De Kock said that addressing delays in courts was a priority. Delays within provinces had to be monitored and the Department had systems in place for such monitoring. Cases that were outstanding for more than two years had to be addressed by the relevant Director of Public Prosecutions. He noted that case flow management was the responsibility of the judiciary. Adv De Kock however made the point that there were various reasons for delays at courts. The most common was that accused persons changed their legal representatives. The Department was addressing the issue of awaiting trial prisoners.
Mr J Bekker (DA, Western Cape) asked if prosecutors and magistrates were sent for personality tests in order to gauge whether the stresses of the job could be handled.

The Director General replied that there was no testing of prosecutors or magistrates as there was no such requirement.

Mr Mokgobi referred to the replacing of 42 branch courts with proper courts and asked if target dates had been set. He referred to a media report about a person whose case had been delayed for four years and said that such instances had an enormous impact on individual’s lives.

The Director General said that the intention was to do as many branch court replacements as possible. The target for the current year was 15. He pointed out that Alexandra was no longer a branch court but was a main court.

The Chair asked the NPA what was done with the assets that were attached by the Asset Forfeiture Unit. He also asked why there was a requirement that persons eligible for special pensions had to be over 35 years of age. The requirement excluded persons who had been activists but were younger.

Dr De Wee explained that assets were placed into an account. The Prevention of Crime Act made provision for the Criminal Assets Recovery Account. Assets that were attached were deposited into the account. The account was used to fund crime prevention.

The Director General said that legislation was in place to deal with special pensions. The Department had discussed the issue with National Treasury. The decision was taken not to amend the legislation and hence the issue was closed. The overriding concern was that if the legislation was amended and the age decreased to below 35 there would be too many persons that would qualify for special pensions.
Mr Bloem asked how many individuals were in the witness protection programme. 

Dr De Wee replied that there were 218 witnesses in the witness protection programme.

The Director General said that after witnesses had testified they were released from the witness protection programme. The NPA could not force a witness to stay in the programme. There were no operational problems experienced with the programme. The only issue was the amount to be paid to witnesses within the programme.
Mr Matila referred to the case of Ms Mashile who was a woman that had been an awaiting trial prisoner for five years. He asked how many other individuals were going through the same experience.

The Director General replied that two months ago there had been five persons who were awaiting trial for a period longer than five years. He said that Ms Mashile had actually waited seven years to get to trial. The issue was how to deal with the problem. It was a problem that affected three departments, that is, SAPS, Justice and lastly Correctional Services. The discussion was ongoing.

Mr Nzimande asked what the role of the state was with regards to bail. Many prisoners were sitting in jail because they could not afford to pay bail. In some instances bail amounts were as low as R200. He felt that in certain cases these individuals did not pose a threat to society. 

The Director General explained that the rationale of the bail system was to incentivise prisoners to come back to court. It was the only way to secure their return to court.

The meeting was adjourned.

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