Department of Justice’s Corporate Services Annual Report: briefing

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Justice and Correctional Services

06 February 2006
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Meeting report

7 February 2006

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
7 February 2006
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE'S CORPORATE SERVICES ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms F I Chohan-Kota (ANC)

Documents handed out
PowerPoint Presentation to the Portfolio Committee
Summary of budget per Programme

SUMMARY
The Department's (COO) Dr K De Wee briefed the Committee on the progress made by the department. Mr A. Mackenzie, Chief Financial Officer focussed on financial issues. (See documents attached)

The Department had achieved increased financial capacity through the appointment of 52 Financial Operations Managers. It had also completed the migration to Basic Accounting System (BAS) and established a costing Unit to cost policy legislation and draft bills

Dr De Wet informed members that the number of misconduct cases had been reduced by 74%, and the process of fast tracking cases had been put in place. With regards to challenges, the department put in place a process to reduce the projected vacancy rate by half by the end of the financial year. The department had 2083 vacant positions while the recruitment turnaround time had been reduced to 3 months from the date of advertisement.

The Chair requested the department to forward in writing answers to the committee, as some questions were not sufficiently answered at the meeting.

MINUTES
The Chief Operations Officer highlighted the achievements obtained by the Department highlighting specifically Human Resource, Finance and Information and Systems Management (ISM). A total of 1370 positions had been advertised in the last 6 months to fill critical positions in service delivery points. Targeted numbers had been achieved but there were areas where targets had not been met especially in relation to women in top positions and other critical matters. The department responded to the Committee's concerns on the waiting period for appointments on advertised positions. The Committee together with the department agreed that the amount of time taken before filling in vacant posts needed to be looked at immediately considering that lack of capacity was a big problem.

Discussion
Mr Imam G Solomon (ANC) requested clarity on what the specific role of the regions would be, and their relationship with the department.

Dr K De Wee, Department Chief Operations Officer (COO), explained that it was an evolving process. There were a number of functions that the regional office needed to perform, such as IT, liase and interact with area court managers, finance, co-ordinate activities of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster (JCPS) in the regions etc. There were functions which the department was not sure whether they could or could not be performed by the regional offices. He said that the operations manager would report to the regional heads, but that this post would also be accountable to the CFO. Until the Department was satisfied that the regions had the necessary capacity, the facility managers would ultimately be accountable to the CFO.

The Chair requested that the Department provide an organogram to enable Members to understand this relationship

Dr De Wee agreed.

Ms S Camerer (DA) felt that it still had not been made clear to the Committee what the exact relationship between the Director-General (Director-General) and the COO was, and who had which responsibilities.

The Chairperson proposed that for the benefit of the Committee that it would be useful for the Department to provide Ms Camerer with a written explanation of the job descriptions of DG and COO.

Secondly, she asked why the Department had merged corporate services with the regional offices, as she saw no obvious link.

Dr De Wee explained that the Department envisaged Corporate Services playing a supportive role to the regional offices.

Mrs Camerer said given the Yo-Yo history of regional offices it was important they were adequately resourced. She asked if .the Department had properly researched what those offices would need, and asked the Department to assure the Committee that regional offices would be properly capacitated.

Dr De Wee replied that the Department had been meeting with the Directors-General and the national heads, and agreed that after this meeting he must visit all the regional offices to evaluate each regional office’s capacity. This would enable the Department to provide the Committee with an adequate response. The Department has in fact been having its own internal debate about the regional offices and it was realised that the Department must choose clearly between centralising and regionalising, as there cannot be any half measures.

Mr B Magwanishe (ANC) expressed concern as to whether it was wise to have the COO working under Corporate Services.

Dr De Wee replied that the Department did not come to Portfolio Committees believing it knew it all. He said that the Department valued the Committees experience, he promised the Department would look into these concerns.

The Chair stated that these were important issues. There must be a sense of control at a central point. The role of the regional heads must clearly be rethought. There was however a need for those regional heads because they were a wealth of information on the courts, but their exact status would create problems.

Ms Camerer noted the Department’s budget allocation for staff funding, and whether it would spend the full amount. Secondly, she sought clarity as to what exactly the funds would be spent on.

Dr De Wee responded that the presentation indicated the Department’s admission that a key challenge was the inadequate capacity to spend its allocated budget. The Department had clearly identified areas in which it wanted to spend. His comment in the presentation had to do with eliminating under-expenditure in the Department, which had a great deal to do with improving the quality of its supervision and management role. It must be elevated to another level, because each budget posed different challenges with regard to supervision and management. In light of the taking on of additional officers, the burden of proper supervision and management became more problematic.

Mr Magwanishe questioned whether the Department was sure all the courts in rural areas had electricity.

Dr De Wee confirmed that all courts in rural areas did have electricity.

Mr Magwanishe asked how the video postponement of cases would work in practice.

Dr De Wee replied that Mr Jiyane, DDG: Court Services, would be best placed to answer the question. He did indicate that video postponement arose as a result of attempt to minimise escapes that took place while prisoners were transported to court..

Ms Sheryl Thomas, Chief Director: Information and Systems Management, indicated that a pilot project has been launched. The aim of the programme was also to cut down on transport costs and time delays.

The Chairperson asked how receptive the judiciary was to this idea, because she was aware that the St Alberts prison in fact had a court operating in the prison itself. The project was very successful as it cut down on transport costs and court time.

Ms Camerer said that deceased estates cases were being delayed in Masters Office, even cases of simple estates. She asked the reason for delays.

Dr Dee Wee explained that the Department was committed to reducing this backlog, explaining this was part of its strategy. He stated that the Chief Master raised two important issues. The first was that the Moseneke case placed a huge demand on the Masters Office to speed up the processing of cases. The second was the impact of HIV/AIDS, which resulted in phenomenal growth of demand for the services of the Masters Office. This was all happening at a time when the Department’s capacity was not what it should be. The Department’s human resource directorate was working to ensure the Department had adequate staff to deal with the huge workload. The Department was committed to addressing the problem but realised there were capacity challenges.

The Chair stated that she understood the JDAS system was being piloted in Mafikeng.

Dr De Wee explained that the JDAS system was used to manage the fines paid in various courts. There was a problem caused by corruption because people could get into the system and falsify records, and access funds they were not entitled to. It was for that reason that the Department decided to do a pilot project, and because it was working with monies held in trusts. The aim was for JDAS to play a role in the audit trail involved.

Ms Thomas added that the lessons learnt from the pilot project was that the system was converted it into a web-based solution, whereas at the moment it was court based. The web-based system was easy to roll out because it ran from a centralised database. One of the new features included was the sms facility. As soon as funds were received the people were smsed to inform them their funds were ready for collection, so they did not have to drive tot he office for nothing.

Imam Solomon questioned the use of IT in the judicial process. He was concerned about holding courts in prison, such as St Alberts. He believed there was a need to assess carefully the possible negative affects regarding public access to the courts, he said it was important that justice was seen to be happening.

The Chair stated that the matter will be discussed further with Mr Jiyane, and that when they build courts, to ensure that courts were built near prisons where they were needed. Failure to do so was mere folly

The Chair welcomed the fast-tracking of the misconduct cases, but stated that the real issue was how old those cases were and the kinds of crimes they consisted of. She asked whether the Department would be receiving back the funds it spent when it suspended those officials with pay for the three years it took to finalise the case.

Dr De Wee responded that it was difficult to say if they would receive their money back, because the cases have not yet been finalised. He stated that a breakdown of the kinds of misconduct involved could be provided to the Committee.

Ms Camerer asked for the Department to provide the committee with more information on the number of people employed on contract, and in which positions they are employed. She also asked the Department to give the ranks of the people involved in misconduct cases. She also asked if the Department was getting it money back from people charged with various misconduct.

The COO replied that it was difficult to say if the Department was getting its money back. There were judgements that had been given requiring people to pay some money back. There were instances wherein the Department had made claims on people’s pensions. This issue was related to the approvals that the Director General sometimes gave on thefts and other conducts. The Department might try to recover the money only to find that the person was out of a job and there was no way of recovering the money.

He said that the Department should be given sometime to give specific on people on contracts. Both the Director General and the COO were on contract. The CFO was also on a contract that was due to expire at the end of March 2006. Generally speaking, the Department had gone on a policy wherein most of the senior staff would be on contract. Some people had been employed on three years renewable contracts. This was not done in order to create instability in the Department but to improve performance. The practice was to review the contract and decide if it should be renewed. This gave the Department an opportunity to release people who did not perform to the required standards. The Department was due to meet with the unions to address their concerns around issues of employment. One might find a person who had been permanently employed as a Deputy Directors. The question was whether such a person would cease to be a permanent employee once appointed to a Director post. It was very important not to compromise the issue of performance.

The Chairperson said that it might be helpful for people to know that there was a policy for recovering money. People should know the consequences of certain conduct. There were cases wherein a person would be found not guilty of any wrongdoing. The money might still be missing in such cases.

The COO replied that the Department had a have zero tolerance policy in place and it was being implemented.

The Chair stated that vacant posts within the Department was unacceptable, and the use of perpetual volunteers could not be tolerated. The Department has 700+ posts that needed to be filled. She sought clarity on those posts, how vital they were and what had informed the Department’s target of filling the vacancies within three months.

Dr De Wee agreed that the Department should do something urgent to reduce the vacancy rate. The vacancies were at various levels of the Department. There were two Directors who had left. He shared the Committee’s concern around volunteers. The problem was how to hold volunteers accountable. So many things and misconduct could happen once a person had been brought into the workplace. There would have to be mechanisms to deal with certain conduct. The Department was committed to reducing the number of volunteers.

Regarding the waiting period before people were appointed, Dr De Wee replied that they had set themselves a target of three months even though as the department they would like to employ people within a work, but there were labour relations issues that were challenging and had to be dealt with. He did not have figures to prove how many contractual workers had been employed in response to the advertised posts. He was however certain that there were people in his office that were previously contract workers and were later appointed to the advertised posts.

Adv C B Johnson (ANC) enquired whether there was a training programme to fast track women into the Department’s senior management structure.

Dr Dee Wee said that the Department’s employment equity plan recognised the need for mentorship. He stated that the Department would provide a written report to the Members on the gender breakdown.

Imam Solomon noted that the transformation of the judiciary was a slow process, and it impacted on service delivery, access to justice, efficiency etc.

Dr De Wee replied that the Judicial Services Commission and the Minister were dealing with the issue of transformation in the judiciary. There was a need to do something about the profile of the judiciary. Some people had said that difficulty was that judges were appointed for life and this made changing the profile a little bit difficult.

The Chairperson said that there was a good move towards employing blacks and women in particular. It was important to have a fair representation of all racial groups in all courts.
Meeting adjourned.

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