The Committee considered its draft Report on the budget vote of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (the Department), with the Content Advisor providing explanations of the content and Members discussing the wording.
It was highlighted that the Committee had invited the public to put forward views on the budget and performance, but there had been a disappointingly poor response. Members noted that the ‘naming and shaming’ by the Minister of those convicted of corruption, announced in April 2013, had not yet happened, and this was raised in the recommendations. They also expressed concern that the National Treasury had not responded to the recommendations that had been made by the Committee about the need to address funding of various entities urgently, and this would be cross-referenced in the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report also. The Committee noted its concerns about the increase in the vacancy rate at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The finalisation of claims and payments of beneficiaries of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has not been completed, and this too would be cross-referenced to the Public Protector’s report from the previous year. The Committee also agreed on, and would mention in the Report, the need to explore the possibilities about extending the jurisdiction of the sexual offences courts, and the reluctance of magistrates to serve in such courts was a matter that needed to be followed up further by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. Concerns were also expressed about the National Prosecuting Authority’s budget shortfalls and vacant posts. The Committee also questioned the performance targets set by the Asset Forfeiture Unit and the discrepancies between the desire by the public to have high targets, and the insistence by the Auditor-General that they be kept to limits that were achievable. The Committee agreed to set out the problems around targets in general as a standalone section in the Report. The Committee further wanted to highlight in the Report the budget of the Special Investigating Unit. It also discussed the accountability of the Public Protector, and was to suggest that all reports of the Public Protector must be tabled to Parliament, instead of merely being published on its website. One Member raised a point about the budget line item of the Public Protector on a corporate video, but other Members thought that this was not to be spent, and the Chairperson suggested that the Parliamentary Monitoring Group be asked to clarify the point. Although this was not specifically raised during the budget hearings, the Committee was also asked to read the judgment in the Tasima matter, in preparation for a future discussion. The Report would be amended to incorporate the comments of Members and was due to be discussed in the House on Wednesday 29 May.
Committee’s draft Report on Budget Vote 24: Discussion
The Chairperson asked Ms Christine Silkstone, Content Advisor to the Committee, Parliament, to lead the proceedings, by taking Members through the draft Committee Report on Budget Vote 24 (the Report).
Before the Chairperson could hand over to Ms Silkstone, Mr J Jeffery (ANC) pointed out that the Committee needed to address some outstanding matters from the previous meetings.
The first point was that the Committee needed still to deliberate upon whether there was yet any information received from the Public Protector with regard to the complaint that it was investigating against one office of Legal Aid South Africa.
The Chairperson suggested that the Committee flag this issue, and it was discussed later, under section 11, relating to the Committee’s response on the Legal Aid South Africa budget, as well as in section 14, dealing with the Committee’s response on the Public Protector budget.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) and Mr Jeffery also noted that they wished to discuss the Tasima v Department of Transport judgment, a matter in which the Pretoria Court had been critical of the conduct of the State Attorney’s conduct.
The Chairperson pointed out that this matter was not part of this particular budget vote process, but Mr Jeffery suggested that it still needed to be on the agenda, and he agreed, having obtained the concurrence of other Members.
Ms Silkstone began the presentation of the Report, starting with the introduction. She noted, in relation to paragraph 1.2 on page 1, that the Committee had sought, this year, to incorporate public hearings on the vote and performance of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (the Department or DOJ&CD). This was a new development, but the Committee was disappointed with the limited public response received.
Mr Jeffery added that in the previous year the Committee had invited people involved in the justice sector and Law Society to participate, but they did not attend. This was a pity, because these people had greater experience about what was happening in the courts, and in the wider legal practice. He agreed that in this year the Committee had also sent out the invitation through general adverts, and targeted letters to certain organisations, and made various efforts to invite others, but the response was poor.
Ms Silkstone then referred to paragraph 1.5 on page 2, stating that the Committee had met with the Office of Chief Justice (OCJ), although this Office was not yet part of the vote.
Mr Swart referred to paragraph 3.1.2, relating to the political overview of vote 24, on page 5 and asked that the word “eminent” be corrected to “imminent” in the second sentence.
Ms D Smuts (DA) and Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 3.1.4 on page 5, and pointed out that the ‘naming and shaming’ of those convicted of corruption by the Minister never took place in April 2013, as was promised. Therefore, it was suggested that the sentence be changed to ‘naming and shaming was to have been made’ instead of ‘has been made’, to reflect that it had not happened.
Members debated the matter, as some others believed that the ‘naming and shaming’ was done in April. However, after debate, they concluded that although there was an announcement in April 2013, no subsequent announcements had been made, and therefore agreed to the change of the sentence as Ms Smuts and Mr Jeffery requested.
Ms Silkstone elaborated on paragraph 4.8 on page 8, noting that the information stated about service turnaround in maintenance services and the Masters Office was to be updated.
Ms Silkstone also pointed out, in relation to paragraphs on 5.6 and 5.7 on page 11, that there was information missing from these sections relating to the indicators and targets contained in the 2013/14 Annual Performance Plan (APP).
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 8.2 on page 14, and asked the Committee to look into the statement that the National Treasury did not respond to the Committee’s recommendations to the National Assembly regarding the forward-funding needs of the Department, entities and institutions accounting to the Committee.
The Chairperson added that it was indeed a problem that the National Treasury had not responded to these recommendations by the Committee.
Mr Jeffery then suggested that the Committee should cross reference this issue, both in the budget vote Report, and in the Budgetary Review and Recommendations (BRRR) Report.
Ms Silkstone agreed to put the Committee’s recommendations on this matter also into the BRRR report.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 8.3.1 on page 14, and said that the briefing that the Committee received from the Office of the Auditor-General about the ‘worst performers’ was not featured in the Report, but should be included.
Members agreed to this insertion.
Ms Silkstone highlighted paragraph 8.6.1on page 16, which stated the new overall vacancy rate of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, and the fact that it had increased. The Report noted that this was alarming and the Committee felt that it was a step in the wrong direction.
Ms Smuts referred to paragraph 8.7.2 on page 19 and said that the Auditor-General needed to look into the Integrated Justice System (IJS). R300 million going to the South African Police Service (SAPS) had been diverted to IJS, but this had not been reflected on the report.
Other Members agreed that this should be reflected.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 8.8.2 on page 20, relating to the state of physical infrastructure of many courts, and said that it should be noted that there was a need to balance the infrastructure budget with the maintenance budget. He asserted that the Department had told the Committee that the Department of Public Works (DPW) did have a planned maintenance programme for courts but that the DOJ&CD was unable to establish from DPW, with any certainty, the details of that programme.
The Chairperson suggested, and Members agreed, that it would make sense to then link paragraphs 8.12.4 and 8.12.6.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 8.12.7 on page 24, which noted the concern on the magistrates’ reluctance to preside over sexual offences courts, and said that the Department needed to look into this matter. The Committee agreed on this point.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 8.12.8 on page 25, and said that although this reflected that most of the beneficiaries of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had been paid, not all of the claims had yet been finalised, and he urged that the Committee must request the Minister to attend to this. Whilst the Committee recognised that it was not the fault of the Minister that there had been delays, it should be stated that the fact of delays was not acceptable. He also felt that the Committee should make a cross-reference of this to the report of the Public Protector for the previous year.
The Committee agreed on both points
Mr Jeffery also referred to paragraph 8.12.8, and said the point had been made that it might be possible to extend the jurisdiction of equipped sexual courts by using regional courts that had wider jurisdiction but that presently lacked infrastructure. He suggested that this point should be added here, and the Committee agreed.
Ms Silkstone referred to paragraph 9.6.2, on page 28, and highlighted that the Committee had expressed concerns about the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) underspending of the budget in the past. However, this issue has now turned around as the NPA was now experiencing budget shortfalls, which raised concern for the Committee.
Ms C Pilane-Majake (ANC) referred to the table containing information on the NPA’s budget allocation for 2013/14, on page 27, and requested clarification about the R3.05 billion allocated to the NPA. She wanted to know whether these funds had been paid out to the NPA, and if so, for how long this kind of budget allocation would be given. She expressed concern that the NPA had problems with finance management, and said there were posts within the NPA that were vacant but remained unfilled, despite the budget allocation.
The Chairperson reminded the Committee that at one point, the NPA had requested an urgent meeting with the Committee about the budget, but it had, at the last minute, then noted that the matter had been resolved. However, the matters around use of the budget remained unresolved. The matter was flagged for further discussion later.
The Chairperson referred to paragraph 9.6.5, on page 29, and suggested that the Committee discuss how the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) set performance targets, and the role played by the Auditor-General (AG) on these targets.
The Committee, after discussion, expressed consensus that it was difficult to adhere to the targets set by the AG strictly because they were too low. Usually, what the AG wanted and what the public wanted were different, with the former wanting higher targets, and the AG insisting on those that were achievable.
Mr Jeffery added that the performance auditing done by the AG created difficulty and undermined the present criminal justice system. The Committee agreed on this point.
Ms Pilane-Majake also added that the maximum percentages that were used by the AG in setting targets needed to be clearly informed, and must be based on the number of reported cases.
Mr Jeffery then suggested that this issue of targets needed to be discussed, in a separate section altogether, in this Report, and other Members agreed.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 9.6.7 on page 30, and said that the Committee needed to elaborate on the role of the NPA, because of the great complexities associated with it. The Committee agreed.
Ms Silkstone referred to paragraph 11.8.1 on page 32, which said that the Committee was impressed with the performance of Legal Aid South Africa (LASA), and would like to get more insight into their work.
Mr J Sibanyoni (ANC) referred to paragraph 11.8.3 on page 32, and suggested that it should rather read that the Committee would consider the amendments to the Legal Aid Guide ‘at the end of the term’, rather than saying ‘before the General Elections next year’, as this implied that the Committee would be doing this for elections, which was not the case. The Committee agreed on this point.
Ms Silkstone referred to paragraph 12.9.1 on page 34, and stated that although the Committee was impressed with certain aspects of the work of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) work, it had not been satisfied on the adequacy of the information provided by the SIU about its budget.
Mr Jeffery enquired whether the SIU had appointed a new head.
The Chairperson responded that there had been speculations on this from certain sources, but there had been no announcement on a new SIU head.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 12.9.6 on page36, and raised a concern about how the SIU issued its internal reports. He suggested that the Committee needed to look into this, because there had been concerns that the President was not getting the reports.
The Chairperson added that the SIU report must go to the President and the Director General (DG) who requested the report. However, he agreed that the Committee needed to look into what was happening in this area.
Ms Silkstone referred to paragraph 13.9.1 on page 37, which noted that the Committee was happy about the work being done by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), and that the work being produced was exciting.
Mr Jeffery said, in relation to this paragraph, that the additional funds secured by the SAHRC needed to be clarified, in particular their source, and to ensure that the funds did not come from the budget vote 24.
Mr Jeffery then referred to paragraph 13.9.2 on page 37, to point out the problems of overlap, since it appeared that the SAHRC was involved in the Tatane matter, where there were parallel criminal proceedings. The Committee had questioned the usefulness of the desktop investigation done by the SAHRC on this matter, and whether it was appropriate. Although the Committee members, in their discussion about this, acknowledged the independence of the SAHRC’s work, they agreed that the SAHRC needed to be more selective in deciding the matters on which it would be working.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 13.9.4 on page 38, and stated that the Committee was not clear about whether the SAHRC was paying DPW, and whether LASA covered the costs of its building. The Committee agreed that it needed to look into these issues.
Mr S Holomisa (ANC) referred to paragraph 13.9.5 on page 38, and said that the Committee had not yet taken a decision on when it should approach the Parliamentary Budget Office about the SAHRC’s request for additional funds.
The Chairperson agreed that the Committee needed to decide on this point.
Mr Jeffery pointed out that the National Treasury had responded to this request by saying that the SAHRC must make use of its own funds. However, he believed that this Committee must emphasise to National Treasury that the funding allocated to the SAHRC got was inadequate, and this was a matter that needed to be urgently addressed.
The Committee agreed that this should be clearly stated.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 14.1 on page 39. Mr Jeffery asserted that the Public Protector (PP) was an important institution and it was accountable to the National Assembly and the Committee. However, there had been concerns expressed at the meeting with the Public Protector about her accountability to these structures, as well as the expenditure and use of resources, and whether the Public Protector was investigating the right matters.
Other Members agreed that it would appear that the PP did not fully understand the accountability to the Committee and Parliament.
Ms Silkstone pointed out that the issues about the PP were already outlined under paragraphs 14.10.1 and 14.10.3, on pages 41 and 42.
Mr Jeffery noted that in the budget, there was an amount of R800 000 budgeted by the PP for a corporate branding video for social networks. The Committee had felt that this was not appropriate, given the limited resources of the PP.
Mr Swart and Ms Pilane-Majake responded that they were sure that the PP had said she was not going to go ahead with the video production, and was re-thinking this idea.
The Chairperson suggested that this needed to be clarified, and suggested that perhaps PMG could assist in clarifying this point.
Mr Jeffery referred to paragraph 14.10.5 on page 43, and raised a concern that the PP had not given the Committee reports on whistleblowers and other appeal matters, and that the PP was not informing the right people about the findings of her investigations, so that the relevant institutions could follow up on those matters. For instance, with regards to the LASA case in Mahikeng, the Committee could not follow up on this matter because the PP did not table the report on this to the Committee.
The Chairperson agreed that there were concerns around this process. However, he pointed out that the Public Protector Act did not actually require the PP to table her reports to the National Assembly, and the Committee needed to check up why this was so.
Mr Jeffery added that the PP reports were only found online, and this was a matter that needed further enquiry. He then suggested that this Committee should insist that the PP’s findings be tabled to the relevant committees and departments.
The Chairperson suggested that the Committee should call for the amendment of the Public Protector Act.
Ms Smuts said that this would be a difficult and lengthy process. She agreed with Mr Jeffery that it would be preferable for the Committee to suggest that the PP should table her reports to the relevant officials dealing with specific matters.
The Committee agreed on this and decided that it would also, at some later point, explore other options that would increase the PP accountability for tabling reports to Parliament and the Committee.
Mr Jeffery added that the PP should table all reports to the Speaker of Parliament, and suggested that the Committee should include this point in the Report, so that the PP would be required to table all reports.
The Chairperson agreed that this suggestion, together with others raised earlier, should be incorporated into the next draft of the Report. He asked that the next draft be ready by Friday 24 May, with the final report to be ready on Monday 27 May, in time for the debate on Wednesday 29 May in the House.
The Chairperson also asked the members of the Committee to read the Tasima judgment, in preparation for the next meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.