The Committee reviewed the draft report on Budget Vote 21: Justice and Constitutional Development page by page, and noted minor corrections.
Issues highlighted and discussed included the delay in the blueprint for the development of community courts; budget shortfalls. especially in the Public Protector’s office; the bad image of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) which was being portrayed in the media; and implementation of the Committee’s recommendation for indigenous languages to be a compulsory inclusion in law curricula at universities.
The Committee’s content advisor provided clarity and explanations on these issues, and the Chairperson strongly emphasised that the recommendations of the Committee should be taken seriously and acted upon by the Department and Parliament.
The draft report was adopted unanimously.
Draft Report on Budget Vote
The Chairperson proposed that the Committee should consider the draft report on Budget Vote 21: Justice and Constitutional Development, page by page to see if there were corrections required. Once the Committee agreed that the report reflected what they had transpired, then they could go back to dealing with substantive matters. After going through all the pages, there were minor corrections and a few issues that came to Members’ attention.
The Chairperson pointed out that the report said that the Department intended to develop a blueprint on community courts for submission to the Minister by 20 February 2019. It did not say or refer to the pilot that had been there for 20 years. He doubted if the formulation was right.
Ms Christine Silkstone, Committee Content Advisor, clarified that according to the Department last year, there was supposed to have been a report by the Law Commission, but they had not received it. This year, the annual performance plan (APP) had indicated that they would be developing a blueprint, so the Committee was uncertain on when the report would actually be received.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) pointed out that one of the major issues was the budget shortfall. In the previous report back in October, the Committee had asked for more funds but the Minister had come back and said that there were insufficient funds available. He emphasised that the Committee was in dire need of funds. He suggested that the Committee should recommend the Ministry continue to engage with the Ministry of Rural Development on the transfer of funds allocated to assist with legal advice and litigation related to land claims.
He reminded the Committee of another suggestion he had made relating to the Money Bills Amendments Procedure and Related Act -- that there were identified funds sitting in another department under another budget vote. Even though time was limited, they could still make a claim in terms of the Money Bills Amendment Act Section 10, which stated that any Committee could approach the Appropriations Committee to move funds.
The Chairperson said it was an approach that the Committee should have followed a long time back, because the money was sitting in the hands of people who did not even know how to use it.
Mr S Mncwabe (NFP) supported Mr Swart.
Ms M Mothapo (ANC) said that when dealing with the Special Investing Unit (SIU), extra care needed to be taken. She was concerned about the bad image being portrayed in the media. There should be an organisational review of the SIU, but there should not be job losses. In a recent World Bank report, South Africa had been rated as the most unequal society, so job losses would further reflect that rating.
The Chairperson suggested there should be an organisational structure that was approved by the appropriate people. If this was not done, people from outside could be employed at the expense of the present incumbents, and this would lead to protests.
Mr Mncwabe said the Public Protector’s office had requested more funds, but the budget had shown no increase. He was disappointed that Parliament was not acting on the Committee’s recommendations. There were critical investigations in that office which remained pending due to insufficient funds.
He also pointed out that there were a lot of universities which were not complying with the Committee’s recommendation to include indigenous languages in the law curricula. What happened to them?
The Chairperson said the Committee was unaware of what the Public Protector was referring to as critical cases. What were the criteria for classifying a case as ‘critical’? People could come up with excuses for not doing their work due to a lack of funds, and the demand for more funds would keep on escalating. There could also be attempts to scare the Department to get the money. As a Committee, they had to find out what the criteria were, and the public interest should come first.
As far as the indigenous language was concerned, it was a matter of public interest, and no discussion on it was required. It was not subject to the university’s approval, and the Committee could not be pleading and acting as an advisory council.
Ms Silkstone added that the goal was to get an African language accreditation at that level. One needed to pass a university level course to become an attorney, and one could not practice without the proper course qualification. That could be a quick way of pushing the Committee’s agenda to include indigenous languages.
The Chairperson asked whether the Committee should negotiate with the Department of Higher Education. They represented the public who had to have access to justice, and there could be no justice if the judges, lawyers and police could not understand the local languages.
Mr L Mpumlwana (ANC) commented that the level of African languages taught at Model C schools was very low. It was not even close to the actual languages. He was also against the use of an interpreter in the courts. He suggested that interpreters should be used just for the records, but the proceedings must be in African languages. He even went to the extent of suggesting the Committee should introduce its own private bill on that matter.
The Chairperson supported this suggestion.
Mr T Mulaudzi (EFF) brought focus to the issue of the Public Protector. Both the previous and current Public Protector had pointed out the need to review the Public Protector’s Act, which the Department had not done, and maybe the Committee should take the initiative. The office of the Public Protector was meant to strengthen democracy, but it had been reduced to that of a public prosecutor.
He also sought clarity on two issues. Firstly, the report said that the Committee noted that the Integrated Criminal Justice Strategy (ICJS) had been developed and approved by 31 March 2018, but now there was a review target date of 28 February 2019. This statement was vague and ambiguous. He asked when the Committee would sit to develop this strategy. When was it going to be completed, because date of 31 March had already passed? Secondly, on the community courts, it had said the draft report would be available by the end of September 2017, but September had already passed and the Committee was still waiting for the report.
Content advisor explained that with regard to the ICJS, the annual performance plan (APP) had been extended to one more year. It had been a never-ending stretched target, and the Committee had not been able to talk to the Department about it.
Mr G Skosana (ANC) commented that the Committee had proposed that the Public Protector be given additional funding, and suggested it should avoid any complications through adding additional questions such as what they were investigating etc., as that might be seen as the Committee not supporting the office.
The Chairperson said that there were challenges arising from the legislation itself. The legislation must be aligned to the constitution.
He added that each organisation wanted to increase its footprint, and each footprint increased its budget -- and there was no money available. He emphasised that this was the time to implement the Kader Asmal report, and if the Department was not able to implement it then the Committee should come up with a way to deal with it.
The Content Advisor gave a technical point of view on the matter. The report had never been adopted as a whole, except for two resolutions. Besides, it had been finalised in 2007, so in the last 12 years, some of the material had been applicable, but some of it had not.
The Chairperson argued that the Committee was an organ of the Parliament and it should recommend to Parliament to adopt this report, because as long as it was not adopted, there would be a constant proliferation of these organisations who would constantly ask for money which, if not paid, would lead to claims that they were not being supported.
The land issue had become a central and grave matter. It would not have been so if there was a functional land claims court. The Committee had repeatedly recommended that the Department of Justice and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to review the legislation. Nothing had been done, and now the country was facing a state of emergency.
Finally, the Chairperson proposed adoption of the Committee Report on the Justice and Constitutional Development budget.
It was adopted with no opposition.
The meeting was adjourned.
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