Department Key Strategic Objectives: briefing

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Justice and Correctional Services

31 January 2006
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JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
1 February 2006
DEPARTMENT KEY STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms F Chohan-Kota (ANC)

Documents handed out
Briefing by the Director-General on Department’s Key Strategic Objectives
Briefing on Department’s Budget vs Expenditure Analysis
Court performance statistics 2005
Baseline information on Operation Isondlo
List of all non-deployed court sites
List of non-deployed court sites less than 10 users

SUMMARY
In the morning session the Director-General of Justice and Constitutional Development outlined the progress made by the Department with regard to achieving its following three key strategic objectives: access to justice for all, organisational efficiency and transforming justice. The Committee sought clarity on the regional managerial head posts introduced by the Department, whether its capital works budget was really providing an adequate number of courts in the rural areas especially, whether the small claims courts could be expanded to deal with civil matters as well and the extent to which greater emphasis on community courts would address President Mbeki’s call in 2004 to ensure access to justice for all. The Department’s proposal that magistrates be enlisted to sit at small claims for one day a week to deal with specific small claims applications was welcomed, and it was suggested that the Department harmonise its salary structures for legal professionals to prevent the current phenomenon in which most prosecutors were applying to become magistrates because the latter were now receiving an increased salary.

During the afternoon session, the Director-General and Chief Financial Officer highlighted the restructuring of the Department and its financial performance. The Committee sought clarity on the restructuring of the Department and Members questioned the various budget allocations to the different branches of the Department.

MINUTES
Introduction by Chairperson

The Chair welcomed the Director-General and his delegation.

Department briefing
Adv Menzi Simelane, Justice Director-General, outlined the Department’s three key strategic objectives: access to justice for all, organisational efficiency and transforming justice. The first objective included the strengthening of the small claims courts structure, the improvement of the maintenance system, enrolment of additional family advocates to address the case backlog and the strengthening of the capacity of the Masters Office. The second objective involved the restructuring and alignment of the Department, the modernisation of South African courts and the improvement of the organisational capacity of the Department. The third objective dealt with the three pieces of legislation to be tabled in Parliament in 2006 that sought to transform the judiciary, judicial education and the new justice college and the status of the Legal Services Charter. The Department’s key challenges for 2006 included the harmonisation of salaries for legal professionals by July 2006, the review of the Department’s capacity requirements and staffing norms, the reduction of the case rolls and increased numbers of courts.

Discussion
The Chair referred to the document entitled "Baseline information for Operation Isondlo" and sought clarity on the number of inactive files.

The Director-General responded that it referred to those cases in which people were not coming forward to collect their maintenance claims.

The Chair requested a breakdown of the number of family advocates per province so that the Committee could compare that figure with the number of divorce cases being registered in those provinces.

The Director-General replied that the information was available to Members.

Ms S Camerer (DA) welcomed the budget allocation to deal with the problem of underfunding of departmental staff. She sought an indication of how much exactly had been allocated for the new posts mentioned in the presentation.

The Chair agreed that a brief synopsis should be provided.

The Director-General responded that the Department’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Operations Officer (COO) would be best placed to provide that information during their presentation this afternoon.

The Chair allowed the deferment.

Ms Camerer sought clarity on the regional managerial head posts.

The Chair stated that the Committee, especially the ANC contingent, was in favour of the retention of those posts, although it recognised the uncertainty that shrouded the position. She was of the view that the courts would not be able to function properly without those personnel as they were the face of the Department for those regional courts, and people felt they were being looked after. The powers and functions of those regional officers must however be made more certain.

The Director-General replied that when the study on the feasibility of those posts was done it was realised that the regional managers would be important for service delivery. They were however done away with in the past because they were not responding quickly enough to the challenge they were meant to address. The Department had however improved the delegated authority to regional managers to now allow them to commit up to R200 000, as opposed to the previous limit of R3 000. This was aimed at improving efficiency because, for example, the R3 000 would not allow them to install even burglar bars as a security measure at courts. The Department was looking at additional areas of delegation. All court managers were currently at Grade 10, which is equivalent to an assistant director. Furthermore, the level of competency of regional managers in the past was poor, but the Department had provided training and some of them now had the necessary qualifications.

Ms Camerer asked the Department to explain whether it was actually ensuring access to justice in terms of the Department’s capital works budget and the provision of an adequate number of courts.

The Director-General responded that a meeting between his Department and the Department of Public Works had already taken place to discuss such matters. The corporate services presentation that would be conducted in the afternoon by the CFO and COO would provide more detailed answers on that.

Imam G Solomon (ANC) noted that the presentation indicated that the Mitchell’s Plain maintenance court currently had 30 000 active files, and monies had not been collected from 24 694 of those files. He asked the Department to explain what it was doing to remedy the situation and prevent such problems.

The Director-General replied that the figure in the presentation was incorrect, as it should properly read 1 048 and not 24 694. The point was that any money at the maintenance office must be collected by the entitled beneficiary, and the Department would follow up on the matter. A proper monitoring system needed to be put in place, and the maintenance offices must be properly capacitated to provide a prompt and efficient service.

Imam Solomon was of the view that the "Masters Office was always hiding" and that he was not certain of their exact location. He stated that they needed to be more visible.

The Director-General agreed that that was a problem. Traditionally the Masters Office was always within the High Court building. However in Gauteng they were now placed right next to the High Court building, and in the Department was currently considering its removal from the High Court buildings in Pietermaritzburg.

Mr L Joubert (DA) stated that the presentation indicated that criminal matters were favoured in the Small Claims Courts. He stated that civil matters should receive equal attention as well.

The Chair stated that maintenance matters were also regarded as civil matters.

The Director-General agreed with Mr Joubert. As the Minister indicated yesterday in the meeting with this Committee, the Department would be looking at greater expansion of civil matters because his office agreed that civil litigation was not receiving as much attention as it should. It must be provided equally to give full expression to the constitutionally guaranteed right to justice. The same applied to divorce courts, where the Department would have to build in the necessary capacity.

Mr Joubert noted that the presentation indicated a 40% increase in the number of cases reported to Small Claims Courts, and asked whether small claims officers were compensated.

The Director-General responded that the statistics would be provided.

Mr P Maloyi (ANC) sought an indication of the number of small claims courts in the North West province.

The Director-General replied that he did not have the names of each of those courts with him, but they would be provided by 7 February 2006. The Department found that there were too few users of the small claims courts, and it was currently considering a mobile court unit. A possibility would be to get magistrates to sit at those courts for one day a week to deal with specific small claims applications.

The Chair welcomed the proposal and stated that it was an important conceptual point for decentralisation, as it ensured that the Department utilised its existing facilities optimally to offer a holistic service.

Mr Maloyi asked the Department to indicate whether it believed that it would be able to ensure access to courts by the poorest of the poor.

Secondly, Mr Maloyi asked whether the Department’s transformation targets were on track.

Thirdly, he stated that he knew of a specific maintenance office in the North West town of Mankweng that was badly lacking in staff and equipment and the monies were not reaching the intended beneficiaries, even though that one office serviced approximately 28 villages. He asked the Department to explain how it would bring justice closer to the people in that community.

Ms N Mahlawe (ANC) was of the view that the portions of the presentation that dealt with access to justice only referred to the urban areas, but failed to refer to the rural area that needed it most. For example, the presentation only indicated the establishment of courts in cities, but made no mention of the situation in the rural areas.

The Director-General responded that the presentation focused on the urban areas because they reflected certain specific nodes. He stated that the Department would provide the Committee with the information it requested on the situation with regard to all 563 courts in South Africa.

He stated that the Department did in fact plan to capitalise rural areas, but the fact was that that plan would only materialise in later years. There may very well be more courts that the Department could repair and maintain in 2006 than originally planned, because it recategorised courts that needed attention. Approximately R250 million had been allocated for it, and the Department hoped to do it in the next two to three months. The same had been done for the Department’s capital works projects. He stated that the stenography and security items benefited from the savings made by the Department.

A further problem was that part of the Department’s capital works budget lay with the Department of Public Works. He stated that that situation would however be remedied as each government department would now alone become responsible for its own capital works and maintenance budget.

The Chair stated that the Department must also guard against the danger of under-utilised courts, such as a court in Lenasia in Gauteng. She agreed with Ms Mahlawe that rural areas were under-funded, but government must also consider that there were urban areas that were growing at a rapid rate and thus the court and associated resources were needed there to adequately address the demand. It was clear that much more thinking needed to be done on this matter because it would be an equally untenable situation should a "huge rural court" be established when the phenomenon of urbanisation would result in only a small number of residents left in the community that would now have to be serviced by a court that was clearly far too large.

Ms Mahlawe asked whether the Department had learnerships for people working within the Department itself.

The Director-General replied that the Department did have training programmes for all its staff members. The presentation however indicated that one class would be focused on, because that class was identified as being most in need. The Department worked with the Department of Public Service and Administration to identify other skills that were needed, such as project manager positions, which would be addressed soon.

The Chair stated that the learnerships were very important and she endorsed them.

Ms Mahlawe noted that South Africa had so many social workers, yet they did not remain in the Department of Social Development because of the poor pay. They needed to be incentivised to remain in that Department, because that is where they were needed primarily.

The Director-General agreed that the exodus of staff was a problem. Government must seriously consider the sharing of resources across departments. The Department was currently looking at the issue of salaries. Government’s social services cluster was involved in the process.

Ms Mahlawe referred to the Department’s drive to harmonise the salary structures of legal professionals and noted that most prosecutors were now applying to become magistrates, because of a law recently passed by this Committee that increased the salary of magistrates. She stated that this undesirable phenomenon must be considered and addressed by the Department.

The Director-General responded that skills within the profession were an important issue, and it was for that reason that the new justice college was so vital. The Department had thus put programmes in place.

The Chair stated that the harmonisation of salaries was an important issue and the Director-General must provide the Committee with a report on the matter, and might even need to brief the Committee on it.

Secondly, she stated that the introduction of a chief litigation officer was vitally important, and welcomed it. She was very concerned by the fact that experts on constitutional law especially were to be found outside the Department, whereas she was of the view that the State itself must be able to provide its own capacity as it was a party to the litigation. There was no need for the State to have to outsource that function, as it should instead be building such expertise within government itself. She was however concerned about the actual functioning and operation of the new structure, and requested a report from the Department as soon as it reached clarity on the matter.

Mr M Malahlela (ANC) asked the Department to explain how it ensured that skills remained in the Department after experienced officials left.

The Director-General replied that the issue of a succession plan was important to the Department, and he admitted that even in those areas in which one operated, it did not always operate very well. He had raised a concern with the Department of Public Service and Administration that it was far too often simply too difficult to promote obvious candidates to the next rung. In fact this might not even be allowed because the post must be advertised etc. The reality of the matter was that if an official left and the position below them immediately became unfilled, the Department would struggle because the majority of the time they never returned to the Department. It was for that reason that the Department identified the need to always have more than one person working in any key area. It was a culture change that the Department was trying to instil.

Mr Malahlela asked whether the large Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) allocations mentioned yesterday in the Committee’s briefing with the Minister were granted by National Treasury specifically to enable the Department to properly discharge the tasks it must carry out in 2006, or whether the allocations were something completely separate and unrelated. He asked whether this was a continuous arrangement.

The Director-General responded that the CFO and COO would cover this in greater detail in their presentations this afternoon. He explained however that National Treasury indicated that it would be making the allocations to the Department, and they would provide funds in the areas in which they saw progress being made. He stated that he found National Treasury very amenable to the Department’s requests for funding for valid programmes, provided the Department guaranteed it would spend the full allocation.

Ms Camerer stated that the Department’s total court workload was much less than indicated in the presentation.

The Chair suggested that this matter be flagged for discussion during the afternoon presentations.

The Director-General replied that there were huge backlogs in the case system. The case backlog increased by approximately 30 000 cases in 2005, and there appeared to be absolutely no movement so far in 2006. He believed that the answer would be found upon analysing the cases that were withdrawn and those that were struck off the roll. A possible reason could also be the kind of investigative work done in preparing the case, and to that end, the Director-General engaged in discussions with the National Commissioner of Police to look at the approach to police investigations.

Ms Camerer asked whether the funds that the presentation indicated had been dedicated for the Masters Office and maintenance courts, were in fact allocated. Secondly, if this was the case, she requested an indication of the exact allocation.

The Director-General responded that the CFO and COO would be best placed to provide that information during their presentation this afternoon.

Mr Maloyi stated that in 2004 President Mbeki emphasised government’s drive to ensure access to justice for all and sought to achieve this, amongst other things, by establishing one community court per province. He noted that no mention was however made of these community courts in the presentation.

The Director-General replied that there were currently approximately 22 community courts in the country, and they were fully functional. They should in fact be called "courts in the community" and not "community courts", as that implied that they were different to ordinary courts. In fact they were merely courts that were placed in the community. Detailed information on the functioning of that court, its case load etc. would be made available to Members.

Mr Maloyi asked whether the new posts and functions that have been introduced by the Department had been costed.

The Committee adjourned for lunch.

Briefing by Department on Budget vs Expenditure Analysis
The Director General highlighted their progress saying that the work of the Department was driven by a vision of constitutional justice for all. The Department had established a new unit, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) unit, which would implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a co-ordinated approach. He believed that although some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations had been put in place there was no standard mechanism for implementation. The Department had also established a strategy unit. Adv Simelane explained that they were at present trying to rationalise accommodation for the Chief Justice’s offices, which he explained were inefficient because they were spread out over several locations.

He explained that the Department faced challenges such as the necessity to try and strengthen regional offices and to improve the area of technology support and provision. He highlighted the Department’s medium-term objectives, which included compiling a report on racism and improving the co-ordination of donor-funded projects.

Mr A Mackenzie, Chief Financial Officer, explained several new projects the Department was working on. He said they were still waiting for approval of their Monies in Trusts project. He explained that the Department had increased their internal finance capacity.

Mr Mackenzie highlighted the Department’s recent progress saying they had implemented a new management system. Critical vacant posts had now been advertised. He felt the Department had spent its budget in an optimal manner.

The Chair requested that, at a later stage, the Department provide a breakdown of how the restructuring had worked in practice.

Mr Mackenzie lead the Committee through the Department’s budget allocation, the actual expenditure, the budget available to year-end and the percentage of budget spend year-to-date for each budget branch.

He explained that there was a R401 million underspend for the first six months of the financial year. This would be utilised for installing digital court recording equipment for all courts by 14 February and IT network deployment to all sites by July. Physical security (including upgrading courts) would receive an additional R150 000.

The Chair questioned Mr Mackenzie about what would happen to the allocated funds if the Department were unable to spend their budget allocations in the current financial year.

Mr Mackenzie explained that if this were to be the case, they would put in a formal request for a roll-over to the Treasury. However, he said ideally they would want to spend the money.

Mr Mackenzie explained that corporate services expenditure and human resources were the only areas that had overspent.

The Chair asked Mr Mackenzie to explain the under spending that had occurred in certain areas.

Mr MacKenzie explained that monthly accounts could be misleading as they were produced by taking the budget and dividing it by 12. He believed that some areas that were currently underspending could well overspend by March.

Discussion
Dr T Delport (DA) asked whether allocations could be moved across budget branches; for example from an underspending branch to an overspending one.

Mr Mackenzie explained that this was not possible as separate budget branches operated in the same manner as if they were separate departments.

Dr Delport asked whether bank charges would apply to people receiving maintenance allowances through the proposed scheme.

Mr Mackenzie explained that there would be no bank charges for people who were just drawing their maintenance allowance in a "one payment in / one withdrawal out" fashion. However if they wished to leave money in the account and draw money out across several payments, they would be charged. For people who choose to use their own bank account, normal charges would apply. He explained that the Department predicted a small amount of people who would refuse to open bank accounts. In this scenario they would be given a card. They would still have to go to the bank to collect their money and the Department would in effect foot the bank charge.

Ms Camerer asked why the Department had not received any of their requested budget for the Monies in Trusts project

The Chair requested that if there were concerns about viability and funding of this proposal they be raised with the Committee.

Meeting adjourned.

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