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JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT AD HOC COMMITTEE
11 March 2005
DEPARTMENT BUDGET: BRIEFING BY DIRECTOR GENERAL, CHIEF FINANCE OFFICER AND COURT SERVICES UNIT
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan-Kota (ANC)
Director General presentation
Budget allocations (Base 80)
Budget vote on Treasury website
Court Services presentation
The Committee was briefed by the Director General and the Chief Finance Officer on the Department’s Budget for 2005/06. The Department highlighted that in terms of the three-year cycle of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework they had received a meaningful allocation from the National Treasury for the years 2005/06 – 2007/08 and would therefore ensure that its branches, especially the Courts, were strengthened and capacitated accordingly. The Department’s key focus areas for this financial year would be ensuring access to justice for all, modernisation and transformation
Some of the issues raised during the discussion were:
- the need to rehabilitate existing courts and not concentrate only on building new courts
- the need to recover all the monies owed to it by other state departments
- using the budget for non-personnel matters to cover under-funded personnel costs
The Court Services Unit presented on its achievements and challenges and priorities and its budget. The Committee raised the following issues:
- courts requiring urgent rehabilitation;
- expenditure on government motor transport particularly the judiciary;
- case backlogs;
- the November 2004 NPA audit of all outstanding cases;
- status of Saturday courts and additional courts,
- Department’s interpretation service;
- withdrawal of cases;
- children in prison.
The Chair welcomed the Department delegation headed by the Acting Director-General, Ms J Ngeva. Others were Mr S Jiyane (Deputy Director-General: Court Services); Mr P Sekawana, (Deputy Director-General: Human Resources), Mr J MacKenzie (Chief Financial Officer), Mr M Deliwe (Chief Director: Strategy), Mr P Du Rand (Chief Director: Court Services) Ms B Shabalala (Chief Director: Court Services), Mr Skosana (Chief Director: Court Services), Ms Sejosengwe (Chief Director: Court Services), Mr R Isaacs (Chief Director: Facility Management); Mr J Baloyi (Acting Chief Master), Ms P Seabi (Chief Family Advocate),
Ms J Ngeva (Acting Director-General) welcomed the opportunity to present before the Committee and noted that her presentation would focus on key priorities while the Chief Financial Officer would provide a budget overview based on those identified priorities. As she was in an acting position, the Ministry and the Department had felt that they should not distribute the Department’s strategic plan for the year, which had been initiated by the previous Director-General. The Department would wait until the new Director-General had been appointed before they present this.
She noted that the programmes identified in the presentation were developed by the previous Director-General. However, the new Director-General would be able to restructure this in order to meet his/her vision. In an attempt to reorganise the Office of the Director-General, a new post had been created – that of Chief Operations Officer (COO) who would have the responsibility of ensuring efficiency and proper operation of the Department as a whole. She said that during the coming week a detailed presentation would be provided for each unit in the Department.
Ms S Camerer (DA) asked if the Chief Operations Officer had been appointed.
Ms Ngeva replied in the affirmative and said that he would start on 1 April 2005.
Mr L Joubert (IFP) asked Ms Ngeva to clarify what she meant by the international affairs role of the Department since he believed this was the prerogative of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Ms Ngeva replied that a detailed report would be presented on this by the Chief State Law Adviser, however the two Departments did work very closely especially on international agreements and other related justice issues.
The Chair asked if, in its modernisation process, the Department planned to spend most of its capital expenditure on building new courts or on maintaining existing courts.
Mr MacKenzie (Department CFO) drew the Members’ attention to Point 5 of his Budget Overview dealing with court infrastructure and maintenance. From the document Members could really see how the inability to adequately manage the hampered the infrastructure and maintenance of court services.
The Chair felt that it was unnecessary for the Department to go around building new courts while there was not basic infrastructure in the existing courts.
Mr MacKenzie noted that these were issues that they needed to address with the Department of Public Works (DPW) which was responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the Department properties, but DPW seemed to be experiencing implementation problems. This had led the Department having to use the services of private agencies with the understanding that the Department’s allocation to DPW would be returned. This had not happened.
Mr Joubert (IFP) asked why the DPW was reluctant to pay the R22 million it owed in terms of its maintenance agreement with the Department of Justice.
Mr MacKenzie replied that the DPW alleged that it did not have the money to pay this although it acknowledged its indebtness to the Department.
The Chair asked what role National Treasury (NT) could play to ensure that the money is paid, as it is due and payable.
Mr MacKenzie replied that while the NT had always wanted to maintain its independence, they had indicated that they would consider intervening if the matter persisted since it would be unfair to expect them to pay without any guarantee of repayment.
The Chair felt that this would have to be resolved as a matter of urgency as some courts were in dire need of maintenance and security upgrading.
Mr S Swart (DA) asked the Department to provide the Committee with the amount owed to it by other State Departments for acting as their representative in litigation.
Mr MacKenzie noted that they would definitely come back with a response on this.
[This figure later provided: The amount of money still outstanding where the Department had paid the legal fees in advance on behalf of other government departments had stood at R220 million, and it had now collected a total of R177 million over the last year. The Chair was satisfied with the rate at which the outstanding amount was being recovered.]
Budget Overview of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
Mr Alan MacKenzie (Chief Financial Officer) noted that the Committee had a copy of the detailed budget which reflected the three-year cycle allocation. He noted that the additional allocations by the National Treasury over and above the inflation adjustment allocation were reflected in red (2004/05) and blue ink (2005/06 – 2007/08).
The Chair asked whether the Reprioritisations (carried forward plus new) of R65 million given to the CEO’s Business Unit in 2005/06 was the total amount available for court security.
Mr MacKenzie replied that the R65 million was the additional amount allocated to court security over and above the baseline amount found within the Court Services’ budget.
The Chair asked where the most significant increases were made in this year’s allocation.
Mr MacKenzie replied that the judiciary allocation had tremendously as the salaries of the magistrates had been moved from Court services in terms of the separation of powers to the Judiciary.
Mr M Malahlela (ANC) asked the Department to clarify what were the consequences of moving the forensic audit unit from the Office of the CFO to that of the Director-General.
Mr MacKenzie replied that although historically the forensic responsibility had resided with the Office of the CFO, it was felt that to ensure its independence the unit should be moved to the internal audit unit within the Office of the Director-General.
Ms Camerer (DA) asked why the Department did not spend the money it had for equipment last year but simply transferred most it to Human Resources.
Mr MacKenzie replied that as there was under-funding for personnel in 2003/04 the Department felt it necessary to cut back on non-personnel costs in order to fund those personnel related matters and therefore it was not unspent money.
The Chair referred to Point 4 of the Budget Overview and said that that means a similar situation could recur where equipment might not be purchased because that money had to be used to fund the personnel under-funding.
Mr MacKenzie replied that they are still expected to write-off the debt they amassed in 2003/04. The Department was also facing overspending by the National Prosecuting Authority in the amount of R8 million.
The Chair asked Members to hold their questions until the detailed briefings for each Unit within the Department. She thanked the Acting Director-General and the CFO for the budget overview.
Court Services Unit
Mr Simon Jiyane (Deputy Director-General: Court Services) briefed the Committee on the budget of Court Services and outlined its achievements during 2003/04 and its priorities for this year (see document).
In reply to the Chair requesting detailed information about the areas that were prioritised for courts, Mr Jiyane replied it would be provided.
The Chair requested clarity on the R50 million received from Treasury for those courts that required urgent rehabilitation.
Mr T Skhosana, Chief Director: Re aga Boswa, replied that this did not relate to ordinary maintenance, but rather maintenance of a very special kind.
The Chair asked Mr Jiyane to explain the expenditure on government motor transport.
Mr Jiyane replied that this included all the vehicles of the Department, as well as those of judges. He stated that when a new judge was appointed the Department bought him a new 7 series BMW, which belonged to the State and the maintenance and petrol costs were paid by the Department. If the judge was involved in a collision, the Department paid the repair costs, whether the judge was negligent or not.
The Chair asked whether the Commission that dealt with judges’ salaries knew of this.
Mr Skhosana replied that these were matters that had been inherited from the previous dispensation, and the Minister had already established a process that was addressed by the Heads of Courts meetings for some time. The process entailed the removal of all aspects related to conditions of service and salaries of judges from the functions of the Department which would now be located within the Remuneration Commission. It would then deal with salaries, allowances, settlements etc. The Department of Transport was also involved in the process and the plans were to establish a new motor vehicle scheme for judges.
The Chair approved. She stated that that this must be expedited. She said she was afraid to ask how often the judges’ motor vehicles were renewed.
Mr P Du Rand, Chief Director: Court Services, replied that they were replaced every four years. Mr Skhosana added that these motor vehicles would be returned to the state’s pool upon their retirement, and it was only their salaries and pension benefits that continued after retirement.
Mr Du Rand noted that, upon retirement, the judge was offered the option of taking possession of the vehicle. Should they accept, the vehicle would then become part of their estate. But the car would not be renewed after retirement.
The Chair asked whether the same applied to the magistrates.
Mr MacKenzie, CFO, replied that the Department had recently received correspondence from Treasury. It stated that from the following year (when regulation of magistrates shifted) as far as the magistrates and judiciary were concerned, even though the costs were charged against the National Revenue Fund (NRF), the Department was responsible for any additional amounts. This was very problematic.
The Chair question the divorcing of the benefits from the salaries of the judges, as surely they should be taxed.
Mr McKenzie replied that the primary problem with the salaries was that Court Services was under-funded by R400 million for its personnel expenditure. The magistracy’s salaries constituted a huge portion of this. Thus when the magistracy’s salary fund would be handed over to Treasury fully funded, the Department would be left with a smaller pot with which to carry the underfunding. The result was that Mr Jiyane’s underfunded budget would become very tough to manage, which was unfair.
The current view was that Treasury preferred to see the Department and its related institutions in one budget vote, and it was for this reason that the Chapter 9 institutions allocations were included with the Department. The Department should thus really submit a budget for matters and institutions managed by the it as well as those not managed by it.
The Chair asked Mr Jiyane to explain why the statistics on case backlogs provided in the presentation did not extend beyond April 2004 as this did not provide a full picture.
Mr Du Rand replied that full feedback would be provided in written form at a later date.
The Chair asked the Department to indicate broadly whether the statistics were stabilising or whether it had not improved at all.
Mr Jiyane replied that it was stabilising, yet there were still issues with regard to the High Court. Part of the problem with the High Court was that the Department was not gathering statistics with regard to most of the work done, as mostly statistics on criminal matters were being collected. The Department had however begun the gathering of statistics on civil cases. There was a vast improvement, especially with district courts. However the improvement in regional courts was very slight - approximately a few hundred cases.
Ms M Meruti (ANC) requested a gender breakdown of the outstanding cases.
The Chair questioned whether the courts, apart from the maintenance courts, kept such statistics.
Mr Du Rand replied that such statistics were nearly impossible to record. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) conducted an audit of all the outstanding cases in the high and regional courts as at 30 November 2004. It was an extremely comprehensive document that should be considered by the Committee as it provided a breakdown of the type of crime, reason for postponement, court times etc.
The Chair agreed that the Committee should be provided with the document.
Ms C Johnson (NNP) asked whether the Cabinet resolution passed last year that looked at Saturday courts and additional courts had been finalised.
The Chair stated that the aim was for Saturday courts to be an intervention to deal with a specific crisis, but it was not meant to be a constant phenomenon.
Ms P Seabi, Chief Family Advocate, replied that it was meant as an intervention to address the pressure points with high case loads. A total of R12 million was allocated for this but the system did bring with it its own set of problems. The intervention was never intended as a sustainable solution, and it was terminated in September 2004. The reasons were that the finances for the intervention had already run out, and that it did affect other government departments. The Department would however be considering the intervention anew in the next financial year.
The Chair asked if there was a comprehensive assessment of the lessons learnt from the Saturday courts intervention and, if so, she requested that Members be provided with a copy of the document.
Mr Jiyane replied that this assessment was in fact done by NPA in 2004. The NPA’s assessment however called for the continuation of the Saturday courts in 2005, yet the Department was not in agreement. The Department itself had not conducted that assessment.
Ms Seabi added that a parliamentary question in the National Assembly was posed with regard to a permanent measure put in place by the Department in the absence of the additional and Saturday courts, and was fully answered in that forum.
Mr Du Rand stated that the fact that the Department had discontinued the project did not mean that it did not view the project as very important. Instead the Department looked at certain focus areas such as sexual offences, and had 20 additional courts to deal with those matters. The decision was taken to continue with those courts because there was such a huge outcry related to sexual offences. The matters that were being dealt with by the additional and Saturday courts when they were terminated were referred to other courts, and were being dealt with.
Mr M Malahlela (ANC) asked the Department to explain its procurement policy, especially the inclusion of previously marginalised constructors.
Mr Skhosana replied that the Department’s procurement policy for its capital works programme was done in conjunction with the Department of Public Works. This did follow the Preferential Procurement Policy which stipulated that when a court was being constructed in an area, the local community must be involved.
Mr Malahlela noted that the bulk of the new interpreters employed by Parliament came from the Department, and asked whether the Department’s interpretation service was not suffering as a result.
Ms Seabi replied that the Department had recognised that the area of interpretation posed a problem that needed to be addressed. It had in fact gone so far as the Department’s bargaining chamber. Over the last two years the Department had allocated funds to ensure it upgraded the positions of the interpreters in different categories, in order to professionalise them. The target had not been reached but steady progress was being made. The entire country faced additional problems with the training and quality of interpreters, and the Department was battling with these issues as well. The Department was considering a learnership to train interpreters.
Mr Du Rand added that an additional problem was that, with the opening of South African borders ten years ago, there were many other international languages that needed to be catered for now, such as the need for Nigerian interpreters especially with regard to the drug syndicates in Gauteng.
Mr Skhosana informed Members that the Department had lost approximately ten interpreters to Parliament’s Hansard service, and they were paid more than double the salary they earned while at the Department. The Department was devising a policy that would extend the expertise of the interpreters to language practitioners, which would improve the stature and proficiency of the profession. This would enable the Department to compete with other institutions.
The Chair asked the Department to explain the slides on the withdrawal of cases, especially at the high figures at district courts. She asked if the figures referred to every docket that came to court but did not proceed to trial, or to cases that were actually withdrawn at the point of trial.
Mr Skhosana replied that the system was more complicated than that. The reality was that some of the cases were repetitive in nature. Most of the cases had been presented to a magistrate.
The Chair was concerned that these cases had already been presented to a magistrate because they were taking up court time.
Mr Du Rand replied that cases could be withdrawn right until pleadings, and these statistics incorporated both. In the case of the NPA in particular, when a case was not ready for trial it was not kept on the roll indefinitely, but was instead withdrawn. This did not mean however that it could not be recharged at a later stage. There could thus be a cycle of cases that were withdrawn and then put on the roll again at a later stage. The Department did not have the statistics on these kinds of cases.
The Chair stated that these figures were very important as they would provide an indication of the amount of time South African courts spent on withdrawing and postponing cases.
Mr Jiyane replied that the 47 case flow centres had been established and were being monitored by the Department to identify problem areas. One of the issues that the Department realised needed attention was that many of the dockets that were brought to court had incomplete investigations. Joint guidelines were then issued by the Department and the South African Police Services (SAPS) to strengthen the arm of the police to deal with the dockets before they got to court. Guidelines were also drafted for the prosecutors, and both sets of guidelines were being implemented at the 47 centres. The Department was ensuring that the good lessons learnt from this project would be rolled out throughout the country.
The Chair asked the Department to indicate whether the figures for juvenile cases referred to children who were sentenced to reform school but who found themselves in prison.
Mr Du Rand replied that the figures reflected a holistic approach. On the one hand it referred to all children currently in prison whether they had been sentenced, were awaiting trial or pending removal to reform schools. The Department interacted with the other role players in order to arrive at a holistic approach. Protocols were entered into by the Department, the Department of Correctional Services and the Department of Education so that each month, as soon as a child was identified as a person who needed to be removed to a reform school, that child would immediately be placed in a reform school so that there was no waiting period.
The Chair asked Mr Du Rand to explain who would identify such children.
Mr Du Rand replied that the court that sentenced the child to the reform school would inform the Department of Education and, simultaneously, when the child arrived at prison he would be collected by the Department of Correctional Services. The information was thus sent to the Department of Education.
The Chair asked whether this system was working satisfactorily.
Mr Du Rand replied that "it was absolutely working". The numbers of children awaiting removal have dropped dramatically. The only concern was that there were currently not enough reform schools, and it was for this reason that the Department awaited the finalisation of the Child Justice Bill.
The Chair contended that the Child Justice Bill would not build the much-needed reform schools.
Mr Du Rand agreed but stated that Bill would grant the Department the option of using schools of industry for this purpose. The Department was also monitoring the awaiting trial prisoners, and these figures had dropped dramatically. At January 2004 the Department still had 2 293 children pending. The latest figures gathered from the Department of Correctional Services in January 2005 showed it had reduced to 1 547 from 1 842 in September 2004, and had since come down even further.
The Chair contended that this was a gradual decrease, not a dramatic one. She stated that they should not be satisfied until there were zero children in prison.
Ms S Meruti (ANC) asked whether the January 2005 figures on the Limpopo/Mpumalanga/ North West provinces in the presentation document meant that there were currently no children awaiting trial in those provinces. If this were the case, the lessons learnt by those provinces must be shared with the rest of the country.
Mr Du Rand answered in the affirmative. In December 2004 the Deputy Ministers of Social Development, Correctional Services and Justice began looking in earnest at means to reduce the number of children awaiting trial before Christmas. The Limpopo province was visited by Parliament’s Select Committee when they had looked in detail at the process of the children awaiting trial and, as a result of the initiatives they put in place in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West provinces, there were currently zero children awaiting trial there. The courts were considering other alternatives in conjunction with role players such as the Department of Social Development, to deal with the problem. These kinds of trends should be rolled out in other provinces.
Ms P Shabalala, Chief Director: Court Services, added that in January 2005 the Department developed terms of reference for the Case Review Task Teams to be established at court level. These task teams - involving the prosecutor, an investigating officer and a clerk of court - would assess each case to find out why the child was in prison for such a lengthy period of time, and would fast-track the cases. This had been discussed at the offices of the NPA early in February and, at yesterday’s meeting of the Integrated Child Justice Steering Committee, there was a willingness to take this model to all the provinces so that each and every court, especially those with high levels of overcrowding, could implement this on an ongoing basis. Indications were that this arrangement must be formalised.
The Chair asked whether this process was the same as that being conducted by the Legal Aid Board together with Judge Fagan on the overcrowding of prisons.
Ms Shabalala replied that it was not the same process. Mr Du Rand added that Judge Fagan’s task team focused on overall overcrowding and adults in particular, not at youths specifically.
The Chair reminded Members that during the 2004 budget hearings the Legal Aid Board undertook to get back to the Committee during this year on the numbers of children in prison and the specific interventions they were putting in place. They indicated at that stage that they were engaged in a process with Judge Fagan, the Judicial Inspector of Prisons, to review all children currently in prison. If the Department was telling the Committee that that process did not exist, it was "enormously worrying" because the Legal Aid Board was very much a central role player and if it was not involved in this task team then it would create a problem.
She requested Ms Shabalala to compile a full report on her task team’s process, and also to find out the status of Judge Fagan’s task team. The report should be provided before the Legal Aid Board addressed the Committee on its budget.
Ms Shabalala agreed.
Mr Du Rand informed Members that there were Legal Aid Board representatives on Ms Shabalala’s task team.
The Chair asked Mr Jiyane to provide a brief breakdown of the specific courts that the Department was prioritising for the beefing up of its security measures. Further, she requested a report from Mr Jiyana on the Kwazulu-Natal province’s experience with the roll out of the Re Aga Botswa programme, the lessons learnt and the Department’s reasons for believing that that project was successful enough to warrant its roll out in other provinces.
Mr Malahlela sought clarity where the presentation stated that the Department would be working together with SAPS to beef up security at courts.
Mr Jiyane replied that this related only to the protection of the judiciary. A new VIP protection unit had been established. It was clearly spelt out that the Department should not bear the responsibility of protecting those individuals who were identified as being under threat. The Department was still providing this protection in the Western Cape pending the policy clarification. Cabinet had now made a determination on the matter and the protection would now become the sole responsibility of SAPS. The Department would now only be responsibil for the physical security of the building alone.
The Chair thanked the Department for the input delivered, and adjourned the meeting.