Justice Budget: input by Public Protector

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Justice and Correctional Services

11 June 2003
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Meeting report

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
12 June 2003
JUSTICE BUDGET: INPUT BY PUBLIC PROTECTOR

Chairperson:
Adv J H de Lange (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Public Protector Presentation
Public Protector Budget Figures 2003/2004
Public Protector Presentation: Annexure

SUMMARY
The Office of the Public Protector presented the budget expenditure of the 2002/2003 budget year along with the cases finalised during that period. The 2003/2004 budget figures were also reviewed. The Committee was concerned that there were too many support staff as compared with the number of investigators.

The Public Protector was adamant about focusing the office's efforts on assisting "ordinary people". The Chair also voiced interest in realising this goal and suggested that the Public Protector prepare a memo with possible steps that can be taken by the office and the Committee. The Chair recommended that the Public Protector draft guidelines for the office to utilise when conducting the preliminarily investigation in order to determine whether a case has merit. The Chair urged the office to conduct more pro-active investigations, specifically with the issue of children in prison.

MINUTES

The Chair welcomed the Public Protector, Mr M L Mushwana. He informed him that the Committee was interested in receiving input regarding the offices productivity, problems, and funding spent.

The Public Protector stated that he was not qualified to review last year's budget since he is relatively new to the position. He informed the Committee that the CEO, Mr A Rampersadh would deliver the budget presentation. The Public Protector, however, discussed the issues raised in the presentation (see attached). The Public Protector focused on the following sections of the presentation: the advantages and disadvantages of the provincial offices, the ideal situation for provincial offices, the need for pro-active investigations, the rural outreach programme, the complete implementation of the Employment Equity Act, the improvement of capacity constraints, and the enabling of a special task team to deal exclusively with high-profile cases.

The Public Protector was particularly interested in focusing the office's resources on assisting the poor and disadvantaged. For this reason, the Public Protector detailed the outreach programme that aims to give those in rural areas greater access to the services of the Public Protector. This programme will ensure that the office of the Public Protector works for the people. The EU has pledged R30 million over a three-year period for the outreach programme. Once that period is complete, the office will retain the positions that were created on a temporary basis during that time. Funding should be available at the end of the three years to continue the programme.

The CEO reviewed the budgetary issues from the 2002/2003 fiscal year (see section entitled "Financial Year: 2002/2003"). He discussed the allocation of budget and the audit report. A matter of irregular expenditure incurred during the 2000/2001 financial year was cleared up. The office received ex-post facto approval for this expenditure. The office incurred an expenditure of R640 000 when the operation of an additional office was taken over. This expenditure was deemed "unauthorised" by SCOPA. The matter has been fully explained and cleared.

The Chair asked if the office has an internal auditor and a Chief Financial Officer.

The CEO responded that they have both.

The Chair related that the CFO should be more involved in public relations. It is disconcerting that the only time the office of the Public Protector is in the media is because of a crisis or scandal.

With regard to human resources and capacity constraints, the CEO stated that 77 out of the 140 employees in the office of the Public Protector are investigators.

The Chair voiced a problem with that proportion. Investigators perform the chief function of the office. As such, there should be a greater proportion of investigators.

The CEO informed the Committee that the provincial office in the North West is responsible for skewing the proportions (see section B.2. "Human Resource Component" of the document for a listing of all personnel in each province). The CEO stated that the office in the North West is an inherited problem.

The Chair could not justify the fact that the support staff is almost as large as the investigative staff.

The CEO stated that such a composition used to be the norm.

The Public Protector pointed out that the Head Office, which also serves as the provincial office for Gauteng, will transfer part of the support staff to the new Gauteng provincial office.

The CEO added that the maximum support staff is already in place. Going forward, the office plans to increase the number of investigators.

The CEO presented the statistical overview of cases received and finalised between 1 April 2002 and 31 March 2003. 13 108 cases had been carried forward from the previous year. Additionally, the office received 15 680 new cases. The office finalised 21 707 cases, leaving a total of 6 641 cases that will be carried forward.

The Chair commended the office for finalising more cases than it received.

The CEO reviewed the budget for 2003/2004 (see document).

The Chair requested to see the salary scales for the office of the Public Protector. Specifically, he wanted the present salaries and benefits, including adjustments.

The CEO pointed out that the R2,025 million was for improving communication capacity.

Discussion
Ms N Mahlawe (ANC) asked if the number of cases finalised included cases referred to the higher courts.

The Public Protector responded that the cases received by the Public Protector are not court matters. If a case comes before the Public Protector that should go to court, the party involved is referred to the courts.

Ms F I Chohan-Kota (ANC) noted that the last time the Committee visited the Public Protector on a study tour, there was a lack of co-operation from Treasury. She asked if this matter has passed. With regard to the proportions of investigators, only Kwazulu-Natal province seems to be sufficiently staffed.

The CEO responded that the relationship with Treasury has improved significantly. With regard to the number of investigators per province, he explained that the number was determined by the caseload.

The Chair asked for the distinction between chief investigator, senior investigator and investigator to be clarified.

The CEO answered that the chief investigator is the provincial representative. He performs the functions of a director. A senior investigator is a highly experienced investigator. An investigator has usually just received an LLB. All investigators have law degrees, they simply differ in experience.

The Chair commented that the racial composition of the office seems to be representative.

The Public Protector answered that it was, but that the top management is still not represented equitably.

The Chair asked how many high-profile investigations the office was currently investigating. Additionally, he asked what criterion the office uses when deciding whether or not to investigate. Finally, the Chair asked how much of the operating budget is spent on high-profile matters.

The Public Protector answered that the Head Office usually deals with cases that are brought against national departments. While the office must investigate high-profile matters, including cases brought against a Member of Parliament or the Deputy President, the most important cases are the ones brought by the "ordinary people".

The Chair stated that there are too many cases filed with the Public Protector simply to get publicity. He wondered if there could be a system in place for the Public Protector to get reimbursed for the expenditure wasted in such cases.

The Public Protector could not think of a system to present a person with a bill for a frivolous case. The Public Protector stated that the cross-referencing - the filing of a claim with multiple agencies - was a problem.

The Chair agreed that this was a problem. When someone has a complaint, they can not file it with every government agency. There should be a way to control this. While the office of the Public Protector should be for the ordinary person, in the real world, if someone puts pressure on the Public Protector to investigate a high-profile case, that case is investigated. The Chair asked the Public Protector to write a memo listing ways that the process can be improved so that frivolous cases do not waste the time of the Public Protector.

The Public Protector thanked the Chair for raising the issue. By the end of the month a report will be prepared to address this problem. People are abusing the state resources by filing complaints with every agency. The office is being used as a "political football".

The Chair asked the Public Protector to set down guidelines that the office will use to ascertain whether or not a case is meritorious. The Committee can then engage these guidelines. The guidelines could be that a case must be a prima facie case with an affidavit, for example. If a case is frivolous and costs the office a lot of money, that should be made public. The cost implications should be included in an investigation. This will facilitate a healthy public debate.

Ms Chohan-Kota said that a system could be created to so that cases that fall outside of the guideline could be published for purposes of instruction. A document could be compiled on a quarterly basis with borderline cases and whether they were accepted or rejected.

The Chair summarised the need for a memo to be written and guidelines to be prepared. He emphasised that Public Protector is supposed to be the link when the system breaks down for ordinary people.

The CEO stated that at present, when a member of the public lodges a complaint, they are asked to disclose if the complaint has also been lodged with another government agency.

The Chair recommended that this become a guideline. The Chair stressed the need for more positive media coverage of the office of the Public Protector. When the office helps people receive better hospital services or recover their pensions after they have been wrongfully denied, the media should be engaged. Furthermore, the Chair stressed the need for more pro-active investigations by investigators. If there is a systematic problem with a specific hospital, the investigators should visit the site where the violations are taking place. This is the type of clout that investigators should have.

The Chair suggested that the office take on the issue of children in prisons. There are children in prison who have been awaiting trial for a long time or who have been sentenced to reform school but remain in the prisons. In accordance with the Human Rights Commission, the office should engage the prisons in this problem. An investigator can visit a prison once every two months and get a list of children in prisons and see which ones should be in reform school. Most children are in prison for dishonesty crimes, but their harsh treatment turns them into harsh criminals. Investigators should build up a relationship with the head of a prison so that these children do not sit in prison unnecessarily.

The Public Protector thanked the Chair for his and the Committee's input. He looked forward to working further with the Committee so that the cases of ordinary people can be handled properly by the office of the Public Protector.

The meeting was adjourned.

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