The Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) presented its report for the first quarter of the 2017/18 financial year, focusing on its financial and non-financial performance. It had three strategic goals. These were the efficient and effective administration of the OCJ, improved administrative and technical support to the judiciary, and ensuring administrative support to the Superior Courts. It carried out its mandate through three programmes -- administration, superior court services, and judicial education and support. During the first quarter, it had achieved 13 of its 14 planned targets. The financial expenditure report per programme and economic classification was presented, and explanations provided for the deviations. By the end of the quarter, expenditure against the OCJ’s budget stood at 22%.
Committee Members expressed concern over the lack of sufficient information and detail in the report. The OCJ was asked to submit a detailed report with the necessary statistics. The Committee also requested that a monitoring report be submitted. Questions raised included who had the mandate to report on court performance, what the status was regarding the employment contracts of OCJ employees, and what its response had been to the recent court judgment against it.
Office of the Chief Justice: Presentation
Ms Memme Sejosengwe, Secretary General: Office of the Chief Justice, said that the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) had three strategic goals. These were efficient and effective administration of the OCJ, improved administrative and technical support to the judiciary, and ensuring administrative support to the Superior Courts. It carried out its mandate through three programmes -- administration, superior court services, and judicial education and support. During the first quarter, it had achieved 13 of its 14 planned targets.
Ms Sejosengwe described the activities involved in each programme, and the performance achieved.
Programme One (Administration)
This programme had the purpose of providing strategic leadership, management and support services to the Department. As such, its sub-programmes included management, corporate services, finance administration, internal audit and office accommodation. All planned targets under the Programme One sub-programmes had been achieved.
Programme 2 (Superior Court Services)
This programme had the purpose of providing court administration services to the Superior Courts. Sub-programmes included the administration of Superior Courts, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal, high courts and specialised courts. The strategic objective was to ensure the effective and efficient administration of Superior Courts. Of the six planned quarterly targets, five had been achieved.
Programme 3 (Judicial Education and Support)
This programme had the purpose of providing education programmes to judicial officers, including policy development and research services for the optimal administration of justice. As such, the sub-programmes included the South African Judicial Education Institute; judicial policy, research and support; and the Judicial Service Commission. The three planned quarterly targets had been achieved.
Mr Casper Coetzer, Chief Finance Officer: OCJ, presented the financial expenditure report per programme and economic classification, and explained the deviations highlighted in the income and expenditure sheet.
Under Administration (Programme 1), the 28% under-spending was due to outstanding salary adjustment for Senior Management Service (SMS) personnel, as well as the delay in the procurement of E-filling software licences.
Under the Superior Court Services (Programme 2), the 3.4% overspending related to March invoices for travel and subsistence which had not been projected in the first quarter of the 2017 financial year. In the Judicial Education and Support, there had been 54% under-spending because of outstanding invoices for judicial training, as well as the delayed appointment of magistrates for which training had been planned. With regard to judges’ salaries, the 4.2% overspending was due to gratuities paid to judges, which had not been expected.
Under the economic classification, there had been an under-spending of 54% on the purchase of capital assets because of the delay in the procurement of E-filling software. There had also been outstanding invoices for the rental of photocopy machines.
Ms Sejosengwe concluded the presentation of the report by noting that the performance of the OCJ at the end of the first quarter stood at 93%, with expenditure at 22%. Various control measures had been put in place to ensure effective administrative support for the judiciary.
Ms G Breytenbach (DA) queried why the OCJ’s report had no statistics, and why it had not given reasons for the failure to meet some targets. She asked about the number of cases the OCJ had dealt with, and why this had been absent from the report. She felt that the report was superficial, and lacking the necessary detail on matters of concern. There were no figures. Was the OCJ doing better or worse, as this was not reflected by the report? She referred to a report from the OCJ in November 2016 which had stated that there would be cost cutting measures, and asked whether it was implementing them and, if any, how many and which ones. She asked about progress in getting funds from the Treasury. She questioned the position the OCJ was taking regarding a court judgment against it over a contract of employment – would it appeal or not? Finally she asked if the OCJ needed any help with regard to the infrastructure of the courts.
Mr N Mataise (EFF) expressed disappointment at the lack of interest of the majority party (ANC), who had only shown their faces and left, showing no interest in the work of the Committee. He shared similar sentiments with Ms Breytenbach, pointing out that he did not see what the report had been about. It had not been revealing of the OCJ’s work. He stressed that the bar must be set high for all programmes, saying that the target for Programme One was very low. With regard to compensation and gratuities, he questioned the spending of the budget allocated to the OCJ. He asked from what source the gratuities for the judges had been drawn, and questioned the use of money allocated to the OCJ to pay gratuities. Finally, he questioned why there were employees on fixed term contracts, when they would have wanted to be employed on permanent basis. How soon did the OCJ intendto comply with the judgment against it?
The Chairperson conveyed apologies of absent Committee Members. The Chairperson, Dr Motsheka, had official commitments. Ms C Pilane-Majeke (ANC) was not well. Mr B Bongo (ANC) was in another Committee meeting. Mr M Malia (ANC) and Mr L Mpulwana (ANC) had attended an international relations workshop.
She asked Ms Sejosengwe whether or not the lower courts were under the competency of the OCJ, and why the report had focused only on the superior courts. She also questioned the progress on dealing with the matter of fraudulent court orders. She asked for clarity on the corrective measures regarding the filling of critical positions in the OCJ. Finally, she asked for a comment regarding the National Executive Committee (NEC) chaired by the Chief Justice, in relation to backlogs.
Ms Sejosengwe responded by saying the OCJ had a full text report available. She asked whether they could submit the full text with all the statistics to the Committee.
Ms Breytenbach responded that she did not expect her questions to be answered today, if there was a full text with statistics. She reiterated that the text must include court performance statistics.
Ms Sejosengwe said that the provision of court performance statistics had been discussed between the Chief Justice, heads of courts and the Portfolio Committee, where the Chief Justice had expressed the view that the mandate did not fall within the OCJ, per se. A committee had been set up to deal with judicial functions by the judiciary under the leadership of the Chief Justice. The Judge President would work with superior courts, and the Deputy Judge President would work with the lower courts. This was ongoing. She stressed that she was saying these things guardedly.
The Chairperson asked whether Ms Sejosenwe was implying that the OCJ was unable to give the Committee statistics on the performance of the courts because it did not fall within its mandate.
Ms Sejosengwe responded that the last annual performance report had included the performance of courts and the judicial performance. The Chief Justice and Minister had engaged and shifted it out, saying it did not fall under the mandate of the OCJ, which was why it had been removed from the report this year. She informed the Committee that there were special committees which dealt with that which were guided by the OCJ.
Ms Breytenbach asked who was responsible for reporting on the performance of the courts, and whether or not the Committee would receive such a report. She stressed that the Committee could not be dictated to as to what information it could receive, and urged it to find out whose job it was to compile the report.
Ms Sejosengwe responded that there had been a meeting between the OCJ and this Committee where this matter had been discussed.
She said that the OCJ was engaging with the Treasury for funding. It may receive funding for the Mpumalanga High Court. If funding issues arose, they would inform the Committee.
Ms Breytenbach questioned if the funds were being used properly, as the Committee had little detail and information to understand whether they were being used properly.
Ms Sejosengwe responded that they had indicated problems over the compensation of employees, and had raised the matter with the Treasury.
She said the Court Integrity Committee was working with the National Prosecuting Authority and the Police, and was prioritising fraudulent court order cases. Statistics would be shared with the Committee once they were available.
E-filling would be funded by Treasury. The matter of judge’s secretaries had also been addressed. Those who wished to be permanent staff would be permanent, because some wished to be on fixed contracts. There was a report on how the OCJ had implemented the judgment. It would not be appealing the judgment.
The NEC backlog matter fell within the issue raised earlier about judicial functions and the court performance, which did not fall under the mandate of the OCJ.
Ms Breytenbach suggested that the issues raised could be put in the report.
The Chairperson asked Mr Mataise if he agreed with Ms Breytenbach.
Mr Mataise said he was awaiting a response to his questions before he could comment on the suggestion.
Mr Coetzer dealt with the financial questions. He said that the cost cutting measures implemented through the OCJ had saved R15 million. The money could be utilised for other priorities. The High Court of Limpopo had been funded through the cost cutting measures.
An additional R45 million had been requested from Treasury to implement the Master Systems Plan (MSP) for e-filling.
Infrastructure was a not a function under the OCJ, but rather rested in the Department of Justice. Therefore, while there may be infrastructure problems, the budgetary function resided under the Department of Justice. There were budget partnerships to try to resolve issues. The OCJ was dependent on the Department of Justice.
Mr Coetzer explained that gratuities’ expenditure was charged against the national revenue fund. The direct charge was where a judge’s salary was paid from, and there was no pension fund for judges. Gratuities were paid not only when judges retired, as they were entitled to gratuities after 15 years of service. However, they were not compelled to take these gratuities immediately. They could take them later. This was why it was very difficult to plan for them, as they could be requested at any time. Gratuities were not a pension fund issue, but a direct charge against the national revenue fund. If there was overspending of the direct charge, the National Treasury moved funds into the direct charge. The direct charge was like any public office bearer account.
Mr Coetzer said the issue of proper spending of funds would be clearer once the OCJ presented its annual report and audited financial statements for the previous financial year. This would give assurances to the Committee on proper spending.
Mr Mataise agreed with Ms Breytenbach that additional information should be provided on the questions raised.
Ms Sejosengwe said that the challenge the OCJ faced was because it had not presented on the previous financial year, thus making it difficult to provide a link between the previous financial year and this quarter. She suggested that when the OCJ made another presentation, it would bring the written text, which would make it easier to share information with the Committee.
Ms Breytenbach requested that the OCJ include the monitoring report when it handed in the text.
The meeting was adjourned.
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