Department Annual Report: briefing by Director General

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Justice and Correctional Services

27 October 2004
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Meeting report

JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
28 October 2004
DEPARTMENT ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING BY DIRECTOR GENERAL

Chairperson:
Ms F Chohan-Khota (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department Annual Report 2003/04 (offsite link)
Legal Aid Oard
Re: Information Required by the Portfolio Committee

SUMMARY
The Department had spent large sums of money on installing computers in various courts. The Department distributed 1 100 computers 2002, 3000 in 2003 and 4800 in 2004. The question to be asked was whether the government had received any value from the process. A KPMG random survey found that most people were beginning to use computers in the performance of their daily tasks. The Department was beginning to see some value from the use of such computers.

The past ten years were marked by policy development with less implementation. The next ten years would be devoted to implementation of legislation as stated by the President in his state of the nation address.
The Committee did not deal with the financial aspects of the annual report which would be addressed on the 29 October 2004.

MINUTES
The Department delegation consisted of Mr V Pikoli (Director-General), Mr B Deliwe (Chief Director: Strategy), Ms K Pillay (Chief Director: Office of the Director-General), Mr H Ebrahim (Deputy Director-General), Mr B Strydom, Mr J Baloyi (Acting Chief Master), Mr H van der Merwe, Mr E Allers (Director: Policy Research Co-ordinating and Monitoring), Mr P Durandt (Chief Director: Court Services) Mr Skosana (Chief Director: Re aga Boswa), Ms S Gomm, Deputy Minister J de Lange and Mr G Hollamby.

The Director-General welcomed the opportunity to present before the Committee. The last two years were dominated by raising awareness around violence against women and children. The Department had been very successful in the last decade. This was evidenced by the extent to which people had access to justice. However, a lot still had to be done. The past ten years were marked by policy development with less implementation. The next ten years would be devoted to implementation of legislation as stated by the President in his state of the nation address. The transformation of the judiciary and courts was very important. The Department was a leader it terms of the number of Acts passed in the last ten years.

Maintenance remained a problem and although a complete overhaul of the maintenance system was in the pipelines some areas like Market Street needed urgent intervention. There were no longer long queues in Market Street court but this did not mean that all problems were solved. Such interventions would also be implemented in other problem courts. The maintenance money could contribute towards poverty alleviation.

The Department had received an unqualified audit report for the first time in ten years. It hoped to maintain this achievement. It had decided to revert to branches and not business units. This would ensure that the various units worked as one Department. Some business units were beginning to feel that they could work better if they were from the Department. Hence the decision to have branches. The management of maintenance money and the Guardian Fund still posed serious challenges. The Master's office handled a lot of transactions involving large sums of money. The Office had been neglected for a number of years. It was only in 2001 that the Department started paying some attention to it. The Office still needed to be cleaned up. Access to be the office should also be improved.

The assessment of the management of monies in trust and the Guardian's Fund would take time to complete. The problem was made worse by the manual and card system used for maintenance monies and the Guardian's Fund.

The Department implemented a project aimed at improving the efficiencies of the courts. The project started in Kwazulu-Natal province and would be rolled to other provinces in the near future. The Department was in the process of finalising the model of courts it wanted to roll out.

Mr Ebrahim said the Department had spent large sums of money on installing computers in various courts. The Department distributed 1 100 computers 2002, 3000 in 2003 and 4800 in 2004. The question to be asked was whether the government had received any value from the process.

A KPMG randomly selected people throughout the country and asked them different questions relating to the effect of computers on the performance of their duties. The Department did not guide the company on what kind of people to interview. This first question was how useful computers were in the performance of duties. 2% of the people selected said that they were not useful at all, 1% did not really need them 35 % fund them useful, 11 % said that they were essential but could survive without them and 51% believed that they were indispensable. The Department was beginning see some value in the introduction of computers.

The second question was how long people spent in front of their computer everyday. 32% spent at least three hours, 15% spent at least five hours 30% spent the whole day. A fair number of people were using the computers.

The third was how people rated the computer systems provided to them. 6% said that they were poor to average, 2% said they were poor, 22% felt they were average, 48% said they were good and 22% said they were very good.

The fourth question was how much longer people thought it would take to do their jobs without computers. 8% felt it would take a shorter period to do their jobs, 40% said it would take 50% longer in time, 23% said it would take 100% longer, 6% said it would take the same time, 22% felt they could not do their jobs and 1% said it was not applicable. There was growing reliance on the use of computers.

The last question was how important computers were for the Department to be able to provide the required services. This question was relevant to the frontline staff. 6% felt that they were not needed, 5% felt they only increase efficiencies, 22% felt they were important, 56% believed they were essential and 11% felt that there could be no delivery without computers.

The Chairperson said that the survey should indicate the extent to which computers were being used.

Discussion
Mr S Swart (ACDP) commended the Department for obtaining an unqualified audit report. The Committee had been looking forward to that for a long time. He noted that the Director-General had said that the Department would not be able to deal with problems relating to the Guardian's Fund and asked how big the problem was.

The Director-General replied that it would take close to five years to address problems relating to the Guardian's Fund. The Department was in the process of introducing new systems to deal with the problem. The system was mainly manual and there were thousands of cards. There were also backlogs in terms of updating the cards. The Department was in the process of capturing and verifying data. Records keeping in the Master's Offices especially in the former homelands was very poor and this exposed the Department to massive legal actions. It would only be once the Department had captured and verified all the information that it would be able to have a true picture of exposure to legal actions. It would also be then that the Auditor General would be able to do a proper audit report.

Imam G Solomon (ANC) said that the Department had in the past introduced critical social legislation on maintenance and domestic violence. The Child Justice legislation was also in the pipelines. The problem was that most of the legislation were not accompanied with reports on their cost implications. He asked if the Department had investigated how much the implementation of the Child Justice Bill.

The Director-General replied agreed that in the past Bills were not accompanied by reports of their cost implications. It had followed a different approach with the Child Justice Bill. The Department was able to cost and budget for the Bill accordingly. This was primarily because the Bill involved different government Departments. It has also been decided that the costs of all future Bills should be properly investigated before the Bills were sent to Cabinet. The Department was in the process of establishing its own costing unit.

Mr P Maloyi (ANC) asked if the Department had refresher courses for presiding officers of equality courts, particularly those who were appointed three or four years ago. He also asked how far the Department was in formulating regulations in terms of equality legislation. He noted that in terms of the Re aga Boswa project the Department was ready to roll out the project. He asked if this meant that the Department could roll out the project at any time and whether there were timeframes on the roll out.

Mr Ebrahim replied that training was continuous given the fact that there were always new people employed by the Department. The Director-General added that the Department needed to train about 800 magistrates and clerks.

With regard to the Re aga Boswa, he said that the Department had hoped to roll out the model to other two provinces. However, this had not yet been done. The Department wanted to roll out a working model. It had refined the Kwazulu-Natal model and would test it before rolling it out.
Mr J Malahlela (ANC) noted that the Department was reverting to the concept of branches as opposed to business units. He asked if this would entail a change in the Department's strategic plan.

The Director-General replied that the Department was trying to ensure that there was a working justice system. The term business unit had given rise to unintended consequences and hence the decision to revert to branches. There was a lack of cooperation between unit. The strategic direction of the Department remained unchanged.

The Chairperson said that she was also worried that there was no sense of unity in the Department. She was happy that the Department was going back to the concept of branches.

Deputy Minister de Lange said that the problem was that the concept of business units was mixed up with business principles. Some units felt that they would operate better on their own and that they were going to be independent. It was important to realise that the Department had arrested a very damaging process.

Imam Solomon said that the introduction of information technology was a bit costly. He asked if people were trained in the use of the technology. He also asked if the use of technology had an impact on major problems like the court rolls.

Mr Ebrahim replied that the Department had not yet covered everybody in terms of training. Computers had had some impacts on some problems but not really on court rolls. It was still early days to have a meaningful assessment of the impact of computers.

The Chairperson felt that the Department should have been able to make an assessment of the impact since it was three years after the introduction of computers in some courts.

The Deputy Minister said that he was worried about the bold statements people made about corruption in the Master's office. Most people who made the statements never supplied the Department with evidence to proof the corruption. The Department had always dealt with cases of corruption whenever it was presented with evidence to support allegations. There were self-interested people who were destabilising the Office without any evidence of corruption. Without denying that there were problems, he rejected the perception that the Department had lost control of the Master's office.

The Chairperson said that it would be preferable for the Department to report on how it planned to deal with corruption in the Office.

Mr Maloyi said that in terms of section 34 of the Equality legislation an Equality Review Committee should be established. The Committee should investigate whether HIV/AIDS should be included as one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. He asked if the Committee had produced any report and if there were any envisaged amendments to the legislation.

The Director-General replied that the Committee was not operating as it should have been. The Department was looking at the possibilities of amending the Act.

Mr Malahlela asked why the Department had chosen KPMG and not any other company to conduct the survey on the effect of computers.

Mr Ebrahim replied that the Department had an existing contract with the firm. The choice was based on the skills and competencies of the company.

The meeting was adjourned.

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