Relevant document: Two thirds of reserved judgments in SA courts are late
Annual Reports 2017/18
The Committee met with the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) for a briefing on its annual report and financial statements for the 2017/18 financial year.
The Office of the Chief Justice achieved an unqualified audit outcome with no material findings for the 2017/18 financial year. Some of the key achievements during the period under review include: operationalisation of the Limpopo High Court; launch of the new websites for the Constitutional Court and OCJ to improve public access; filling of 95.4% of the vacant posts; the development of the Information Security Framework; approval of the OCJ Service Delivery Improvement Plan for the 2018-2021 cycle. The OCJ operates under three programmes: Administration, Superior Court Services and Judicial Education and Support. In terms of Administration, they achieved all nine targets that they had set. In relation to Superior Court Services they achieved all six out of six targets. Through the Judicial Education and Support they had four targets and all were met. The department spent 98% of its Total Voted Funds for the financial year. The main area for underspending was on the compensation of the employees’ budget. The reason was that the structure of the budget for the OCJ has not yet been approved by the Minister and Department of Public Services and Administration, thus vacancies had to be kept open until approval. Of concern was that the OCJ spent 100% of its operational budget, as this does not give them leeway to prioritize any new targets that might come up. Overspending occurred on the Direct Charge from the National Revenue Fund and relates to the Judges’ salaries and gratuities. There was a four percent salary increase that was awarded to public office bearers. The Direct Charge incurred of R32 million has been paid back to OCJ by the National Treasury, and therefore the overspending does not constitute as unauthorized spending.
Members asked the OCJ to provide the Committee with a report on the breakdown of staff debt. Some of the issues of concern that were raised include compliance monitoring, information technology systems control and supply chain management. On reserved judgments, the OCJ needs to be forthcoming with ensuring that there is sufficient access to information pertaining to such cases. The Chairperson was pleased by the OCJ’s performance and hoped their good work would be sustained into the next financial year. In addition, a meeting with the Chief Justice has been requested. The Judicial Services Commission annual report is still in draft phase and will be provided to the Committee once it has been approved.
The Chairperson started off the meeting by welcoming Members, guests and the media. She gave the Office of the Chief Justice an hour to do their presentation. She described how she was happy and proud of the Office of Chief Justice and Legal Aid South Africa for having clean audits. She asked the Office of the Chief Justice presenters to be comfortable with their presentation because they achieved a clean audit.
Office of the Chief Justice Annual Report for the 2017/18 Financial Year
Ms Memme Sejosengwe, Secretary-General, Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ), in her opening remarks, introduced the delegation from OCJ and this was followed by a presentation summary. She asked the Chairperson to include a brief background of the work of OCJ as there are new Members who might not be aware of their work. OCJ was transferred from the Department of Justice in 2014 to be an independent body. The OCJ has a constitutional mandate to uphold the Constitution of South Africa. OCJ is mandated to support the judicial function of the Superior Courts, Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and the South African Judicial Education Institute in the execution of its mandate and to administer the remuneration of Judges. The OCJ deals with direct charges that relate to Judges. They abide by the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) like any other national department. Some of the strategic goals of the OCJ include: being effective and efficient in administration through supporting the Judiciary, improve administrative and technical support to the Judiciary through judicial training and ensuring administrating support to the Superior Courts. They play a crucial role in contributing to the National Development Plan (NDP) through Chapter 14 which relates to accountability and fighting corruption. They support Chapter 13 of the NDP through building a capable state and contribute to the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) through outcome three and outcome 12. She looked at the overall performance of OCJ between 2015/16 and 2017/18. 2015/16 was when they started working independently, and 35 goals were planned but only 26 were achieved. In comparison to 2017/18, 19 planned targets were set and 19 were achieved.
The Department achieved an unqualified audit outcome with no material findings for the 2017/18 financial year. Some of the key achievements during the period under review include: operationalisation of the Limpopo High Court; launch of the new websites for the Constitutional Court and OCJ to improve public access; filling of 95.4% of the vacant posts; the development of the Information Security Framework; approval of the OCJ Service Delivery Improvement Plan for the 2018-2021 cycle.
The OCJ operates under three programmes: Administration, Superior Court Services and Judicial Education and Support. In terms of Administration, they achieved all nine targets that they had set. In relation to Superior Court Services they achieved all six out of six targets. Through the Judicial Education and Support they had four targets and all were met.
Mr Casper Coetzer, Chief Financial Officer, OCJ, highlighted that the Department spent 98% of its Total Voted Funds for the financial year. The main area for underspending was on the compensation of the employees’ budget. The reason was that the structure of the budget for the OCJ has not yet been approved by the Minister and Department of Public Services and Administration, thus vacancies had to be kept open until approval. Of concern was that the OCJ spent 100% of its operational budget, as this does not give them leeway to prioritize any new targets that might come up. Overspending occurred on the Direct Charge from the National Revenue Fund and relates to the Judges’ salaries and gratuities. There was a four percent salary increase that was awarded to public office bearers. The Direct Charge incurred of R32 million has been paid back to OCJ by the National Treasury, and therefore the overspending does not constitute as unauthorized spending.
Ms Sejosengwe highlighted the Auditor-General’s (AG) outcomes. In terms of the Annual Financial Statements, there were no material misstatements identified. In terms of the Annual Performance Report, no material findings were identified for the financial year. There were also no material findings in terms of compliance with legislation. In terms of Information Technology the OCJ has improved on this. She thanked the Committee for the support in ensuring that the Department supports OCJ.
The Chairperson thanked the OCJ for their presentation. She commended the OCJ for doing well and having an unqualified audit without findings; an improvement from the previous year. She asked about the matter involving the Judge who did not declare interest on what he is obtaining now, what has been done?
Mr W Horn (DA) said some of the issues with regards to the functions of the OCJ need to be addressed; such as that of supporting the judiciary. He referred to GroundUp article dated 27 September 2018, which reported that two thirds of reserved judgements in the High Courts were late. The OCJ issued a letter the following day stating that the article needed to be withdrawn as it was based on false information. This was problematic in terms of how the Department deals with delicate information. The Department was not able to provide the relevant information. Going forward, the Department needs to be more engaging and have information more readily available for reserved judgements. He asked about the ongoing saga regarding the judicial council led Court Administration model that the Chief Justice favoured. What is the progress in the finalisation of this?
Mr G Skosana (ANC) welcomed the report and congratulated the OCJ. The OCJ achieved all the 19 targets for the year as compared to previous years- in 2015/16 they had 35 targets and achieved 26 targets, and in 2016/17 they had 20 targets and achieved 17. He was concerned about the reduction in the number of targets; it seems like they were trying to make it easy for them to achieve targets. He congratulated them for the clean audit. He said that they cannot be able to perform less than they have this year in the years to follow. He asked about the budget and how they spent 98% of their budget. He was pleased by this. He asked why the Treasury could not be able to predict salary increases. He was worried that this will always be an issue every year.
Mr D van Rooyen (ANC) welcomed the “so called” clean audit. He said that the AG knows what he refers to by this. On the financials, he asked about interest paid because of late payment of invoices as well as late payments to an official. Was this not avoidable? He noted repair costs on a hired vehicle after a determination was made the accident was not caused by negligence. He sought an assurance that due process was followed to reach the decision.
Ms G Breytenbach (DA) asked about the annual report of the JSC. Why it was not included and could it be made accessible?
Mr L Mpumlwana (ANC) said that there is a problem of overcrowding in prisons. He asked if the OCJ had a plan to resolve this. He asked whether there were plans to transfer the Judiciary to support the interest of many of the people in South Africa. Were there plans to reflect that this is an African country? There is a problem of only promoting English in the judicial system and suppressing other languages. What is the OCJ doing about this? Are we satisfied with being like Britain? What are the plans for establishing a single Judiciary?
Ms Sejosengwe thanked Members for their words of encouragement. On the case of the Judge who did not declare interests, the issue had been dealt with. There has not been much progress on the issue of the Court Administration model. The Executive and Judiciary were still looking into the matter. On the reserved judgements relating to the GroundUp article, the matter was being dealt with by the Heads of Courts. Reserved judgements are a moving target. She did not want to get into much detail about the matter because of her position. The reduction of targets occurred when the delineation of the Administration and Judicial functions took place, wherein 14 targets had to be removed from the judicial space and more added to administration. The department has internally managed operational targets. A lot of work takes place in terms of supporting the Judiciary as well. The annual report of the JSC is still in the draft phase and would be made available soon. The overcrowding in prisons is dealt with by stakeholders such as the Department of Correctional Services, Judiciary and Prosecution. In terms of language, the Chief Justice explained the issue of language in a public place. Interpretation services are provided in Courts. English is a language of record. In terms of establishing a single Judiciary, the Minister and the Executive were still working on it.
Mr Coetzer said the National Treasury is warned about the possibility of overspending on Judges’ remunerations, every year during the budget adjustment period. In the current year, R33 million has been projected. Rectification is only actioned after the approval of the final audit of the year. In terms of late payments, when functions were transferred from the Department of Justice, part of the transfer included vehicles. Other interest included an arbitration award of an official that was transferred from the Department of Justice to the OCJ. This is still being investigated. This case was inherited from the period before 2015 and the money will be claimed from the Department of Justice as it was their issue. In terms of the damaged vehicle, the correct processes were followed, and the AG found that there was no negligence that took place. In terms of staff debt, the largest portion of the debt was inherited from the Department of Justice. Some of the debt figures are based on officials who resigned during the financial year. Advances are also part of the total staff debt amount and reflect as debt until paid off. In terms of tax debt, it is a tax that is owed to SARS, the financial year closes on the 31st of March and seven days after this the money is paid to SARS. R500 000 that reflects on the statement as tax debt from Judges is there because it had not been paid yet at the end of the financial year but was paid seven days after. The lease of Judge's vehicles is listed as a commitment because they are on contract. The supply chain was listed in the yellow zone of financially unqualified with findings; there were only two findings in terms of procurement.
Mr Mpumlwana had a follow-up question. What does the notion of language of record mean? If proceedings are made in English, are they translated to other languages or vice-versa? He gave an example of a policeman writing a statement in English and yet he is not an interpreter? Does this not weaken the case? What guarantee is there that what he is saying is accurate? Can court proceedings be in other language and the reports in English?
Mr van Rooyen asked about the staff debt figures and if the OCJ could provide the Committee with a breakdown of the report for the next meeting.
Mr M Maila (ANC) asked about the Integrated Justice System project and whether the OCJ is part it. How does the OCJ view the progress of the project and were there any suggestions to ensure its success?
The Chairperson said the OCJ managed to reach all its targets in terms of programme three. She asked if training for traditional leaders was still being conducted. In terms of operations of Traditional Courts this is very helpful. She also asked about the legislative mandate in terms of rendering support to foreign judicial institutions and courts. What institutions were these? She sought clarity about the underspending of compensation on employees.
Mr Mpumlwana seconded the Chairperson on the question of what the OCJ is doing in ensuring that we are an African country.
An OCJ representative said training of traditional leaders was still running. In African countries training is being done in both countries with and without Judiciary Education institutes. SADC has been covered by this.
Ms Sejosengwe said the OCJ is represented at the Integrated Justice System (IJS). E-filing solution is being worked on through the IJS programme. In terms of language, the Chief Justice determines the language of record and has supported that English should be the language of record.
The Chairperson asked if the OCJ was aware of the issues in Thohoyandou and Polokwane e.g. water issues.
Mr Nathi Mncube, Spokesperson, OCJ, said he was not aware of this and the burnt chamber in Thohoyandou.
Mr Mpumlwana asked about the transformation of the Judiciary?
Ms Sejosengwe said that transformation is broad. OCJ does not handle issues to deal with policy as these lie with the Executive and the Minister. However, they provide support through research.
The Chairperson thanked the OCJ for its responses. She gave the OCJ 14 days to provide feedback on issues raised and not addressed. A meeting with the Chief Justice should take place. She asked the OCJ to sustain the good work and its clean audit.
The meeting was adjourned.
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