The Committee discussed the contents of the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The Committee’s Content Adviser went through some of the key issues identified in the Report.
The presentation highlighted that the Department had received a qualified audit from the Auditor-General and underlined the importance of the Department accounting for third party funds. It was noted that the Department had a tendency to promote junior people into senior posts, which brought into question whether it was able to carry out the work efficiently. There was a 25% vacancy rate in senior staff positions which adversely affected governance work. The Department had an 11% vacancy rate which had apparently reduced significantly from the previous fiscal year.
Members debated the question of accountability, particularly with respect to third party funds. There were differing opinions about whether the Department should take over the responsibility for the maintenance of its infrastructure or whether it should be the responsibility of the Department of Public Works. Other issues such as viament, vacancy rates, retention of staff, Thuthuzela Care Centres were also discussed by the Committee.
Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) Presentation
Ms Christine Silkstone, Content Adviser for the Committee, presented the working draft BRRR for the Committee. She noted that it was difficult to match the Department’s performance with the frameworks provided for it to carry out its mandate.
The Department had received a qualified audit from the Auditor-General and the main focus of the Committee’s BRRR would be on recommendations to focus on areas that had been problematic in the financial year with a view to fixing them. It was important for the Department to account for third party funds and to improve internal staff capacity to deal with backlog and issues of under-staffing.
Ms Silkstone noted that the Department appeared to promote junior people into senior posts, which brought into question whether they were able to carry out the work efficiently. There was a 25% vacancy rate in senior staff positions which adversely affected governance work. The Department had an 11% vacancy rate which had apparently reduced significantly from the previous fiscal year. Corruption was a major issue which would need to be addressed in future financial years. There had been a decline in women practicing in the legal profession.
The Chairperson recounted the issues which Ms Silkstone had highlighted and opened the floor for debate on those issues.
Mr J Jeffery (ANC) said that the BRRR should include mention of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and infrastructure issues relating to the management of court buildings and DOJCD offices. It was not always necessarily the fault of the DPW when buildings were poorly maintained. Furthermore, he raised the issue of the DOJCD using money allocated for vacant positions to pay for other programmes whilst it still had unfunded vacancies.
The Chairperson said that it was better for the DOJCD to be responsible and accountable for faults in its infrastructure.
Mr M Gungubele (ANC) said that Ms Silkstone should be brave in raising issues of concern to be added to the BRRR. The DOJCD must accept responsibility for its shortcomings with respect to its infrastructure management. The issue of viament raised by Mr Jeffery was a policy issue; he asked Ms Silkstone what the percentage of viament was. Excessive viament showed that the DOJCD did not put itself in a position to carry out some of its work timeously thus leading to qualified reports. The Department should interact with the Committee and indicate if it was under any spending pressure with regard to budget allocation.
Ms Silkstone replied that she had calculated the percentage of viament and it was under 8% in every case where it was employed.
Ms D Schafer (DA) agreed with her colleagues’ views on the subject of viament and said that it was stupid for the Department to use it. The issue of the Department being unable to account for how much moneys it owed to various municipalities should be raised in the BRRR. The chaotic state of the layout of the figures in the DOJCDs annual report also needed to be raised. It impacted the amount of confidence the Committee could have on the accuracy of the figures presented. Some of the figures were contradictory and it was concerning. The Department should be held responsible for its infrastructure but should not necessarily be granted more funds to deal directly with it. The DOJCD could not be allocated funds for infrastructural issues as it could barely cope with dealing with the funds it already had to carry out its mandate.
Mr Gungubele reemphasised his point that those departments which applied for money and received it under their budget, should be responsible for it and should not pass the buck onto other departments.
Mr Jeffery said that the Committee did not have enough information to make a suggestion on whether the DOJCD should take over responsibility for the maintenance of its infrastructure or whether it should be the responsibility of the DPW. The issue of whether the DOJCD would have the capacity to deal with additional funds was important in considering this matter. The non-payment of various municipalities by the DOJCD was not its fault; it was DPWs fault as the DOJCD was still awaiting information from DPW which was essential. He suggested that the BRRR reflect the Committee’s concern over infrastructure. The issue of DPW consulting people who occupied and worked in a building prior to renovating it was also of importance.
Mr Gungubele reiterated that the DOJCD must accept responsibility for the money allocated to it and should not blame other departments for its shortcomings.
Ms Schafer suggested that the issue of who was responsible for infrastructure should be seriously looked into and debated in future.
Mr Jeffery suggested that the BRRR include a recommendation to rewrite two bullet points on the fourth page of the annual report of the Department to make it clearer. The fact that the Department received an unqualified audit in the financial year 2004/05 should be made clear. The issue of third party funds receiving qualified reports and the anticipation that this trend would continue should be highlighted and interrogated in the BRRR. The Department should explain how it handled third party funds.
Mr Gungubele agreed with Mr Jeffery’s points. The issue of accountability was important to raise with the Department, particularly with respect to third party funds. The issue of the Guardian Fund which was recently defrauded of money was important because it highlighted the importance of the DOJCD taking responsibility for managing its funds. It was all good and well to say that the Department would investigate the money stolen but the primary role of the Department was to ensure that the money was not lost in the first place and that it was fully accounted for. The Department should present to the Committee on the issue of third party funds.
Mr S Holomisa (ANC) sought clarity on Mr Jeffery’s point.
Ms Schafer said that the Committee should recommend that the Department explore ways to better manage third party funds. Fines could be paid on the internet and that should be recommended to the Department.
Mr Jeffery explained his point on third party funds which he had previously stated. The Department should develop a system to better manage third party funds so as to avoid getting a qualified report on it. In the long term, the Committee should recommend a system to review the process of third party funds.
Mr Holomisa agreed with Mr Gungubele’s point to invite the Department to present to the Committee on third party funds.
The Chairperson asked how the recommendations on third party funds would be reflected in the BRRR.
Mr Jeffery said that in the first instance, the Department would have to present before the Committee with the Treasury on third party funds.
Mr Gungubele said that the BRRR should reflect the Committee’s dissatisfaction with the issue of the management of third party funds. The Department must explain why it had not been able to deal effectively with the matter. It must explain its future plans and intentions for the management of the funds. It was unacceptable that the Department would acknowledge that it was unable to guarantee a clean audit in the area of third party funds.
Ms Schafer said that the Department could not answer simple questions on how it intended to carry out work in vital areas. This showed that in certain instances, the Department was hiring people who were not able to do their jobs appropriately.
Mr Jeffery raised the issue of operational specific dispensation and asked whether the DOJCD used money allocated for vacancies because the operational specific dispensation was low.
Ms Silkstone responded that the DOJCD had received R500 million for operation costs.
Mr Jeffery noted that the Department had a 28% vacancy rate in the Chief Financial Officer’s office and said that when a vacancy rate was that high a Department could not manage its finances properly. The BRRR should note the lack of office space for employees as raised by the DOJCD. It might be useful for the Committee to compare the Department with Legal Aid
Ms Schafer said that the BRRR should include a section addressing the Department’s high turnover rate, interrogating why it was so high (15%).
Mr Gungubele commented that the DOJCD should do more to hire people who were of higher skill levels. He noted the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and its stringent rules for new staff in order to ensure that the body’s work was beyond reproach.
Mr Jeffery said the BRRR should include the issue of the vacancy of the Chief Master position.
Mr Gungubele said that the Department should not complain about issues within its purview which it could correct with better endeavour. Performance Contracts should be instituted in order to hold staff to a standard which they could be evaluated by.
Ms Schafer said that the Committee should receive an explanation from the Department on why suspensions were being carried on with no end in sight. The BRRR should highlight the DOJCDs slow pace in finalising disciplinary and grievance issues and cases.
Mr Jeffery said the BRRR should show strong concern for the slowness of the DOJCD to deal with disciplinary issues.
Mr Jeffery commented that the recommendation for more money for DOJCD employees needed to be addressed or highlighted.
Ms Schafer said that security in courts needed to be addressed. The DPW needed to consult with people who worked at a building prior to proceeding with renovations on it and courts needed to be better maintained. The tender awarding process needed to be handled better.
Mr Jeffery noted that the breakdown of court cases that were dealt with by percentage was not fully explained. It failed to explain or highlight cases which were deferred for technical reasons such as mental cases where defendants were deemed to be unfit to stand trial. The percentages did not effectively reflect cases which had been struck off the role and why this had been done.
Mr Gungubele commented that in the matter of financial dispensation for the DOJCD the Committee needed input from the National Treasury to assist it with its oversight work. Both the Treasury and the DOJCD should present before the Committee.
Mr Jeffery commented that the Thuthuzela Care Centres were being increased. The conviction rate in dedicated courts were higher than in Thuthuzela Care Centres, therefore there should be more dedicated courts, barring that there should be a better explanation of why the conviction rate was higher in one but not the other.
Mr Gungubele noted that whenever there were a high number of deadlock cases, the DOJCD seemed to do better in clearing those cases.
Ms Schafer agreed with the comments on dedicated courts. There had been an increase in sexual offence cases and the Committee needed an adequate explanation of why that was the case.
Mr Jeffery said that the Director General needed to take on the responsibility of clearing up certain issues pertaining to the auditing process. The BRRR should raise the issue of whether the DG of DOJCD was ultimately responsible for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Mr Gungubele found it arrogant and disrespectful of the DOJCD to anticipate further qualified reports on the NPA. The Committee should communicate its dissatisfaction at such an attitude.
Mr Jeffery commented that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) should take over the role of promoting the Constitution which was being carried out by the DOJCD in addition to its other tasks. The SAHRC and the Public Protector needed to submit its areas of concern to the Committee outside of the purview of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
The Chairperson agreed with Mr Jeffery on the need for the SAHRC and Public Protector to present their respective problems fully. He asked why the BRRR went through the Office of the Speaker.
Mr Jeffery explained that the BRRR process was run through the Office of the Speaker due to a recommendation made by an endorsed report (the Asmal report on Chapter 9 institutions). The issue of granting money to judges for vehicles needed to be addressed in the BRRR.
The Committee agreed on the draft proposals offered for the BRRR and agreed to meet in the coming week to agree on the final draft of the document.
The meeting was adjourned.
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