Office of the Public Protector Annual Report 2006/7

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Justice and Correctional Services

18 February 2008
Chairperson: Mr Y Carrim (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Office of the Public Protector (OPP) briefed the Committee on its annual report and financial statements. Full details were included in the report of performances, statistics, financial performance, challenges and collaboration with other Chapter 9 institutions. Complete statistics on gender and race profiles of the staff, the number of cases handled, finalisation times of cases and financial performance were provided. In addition, a report on the financial performance was tabled, and it was noted that the Office had achieved its sixth successive unqualified audit.

Questions were asked over the performance of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and the IT department of the OPP, why two years were needed to complete cases, collaboration with other Chapter 9 institutions, why sparsely populated provinces had a disproportionately large number of cases, and the status of investigations into the suspended CEO. Further questions related to the status of the legal action between the Public Protector and his Deputy and perceptions of independence.

Meeting report

Office of the Public Protector (OPP) : Annual Report 2006/7
Ms P Mogaladi, Senior Manager, Office of the Public Protector, started her presentation by detailing the mandate of OPP. She then moved on to present statistical details of the number of cases heard, the government department against which the complaint was made, how long it took to finalise cases and the breakdown by province, of cases handled (see attached presentation). It was noted that 95% of cases were finalised within the requisite two-year period. The race and gender profile of the staff was also provided.

Discussion
Ms N Mahlawe (ANC) queried the representation of woman at senior level. She further sought clarification on whether the complaints referred to in the presentation were complaints against officials or the department itself.

Mr L Landers (ANC) noted that the provincial breakdown of cases investigated by the OPP bore little relation to the population of the provinces.

Advocate Mushwana was unable to provide an answer as to why sparsely populated provinces generated a disproportionate number of cases. He suggested that persons in other provinces may rely on other means of resolving disputes. He emphasised the importance of reaching out to people in rural areas, which the OPP was currently doing.

Mr Landers further noted that although the OPP finalised 95 % of cases within two years, this was rather generous, and he further enquired whether there should not be a shorter period targeted for such finalisation.

Advocate Mushwana agreed that two years was a long time, especially as the OPP was intended as a last resort after other processes had been exhausted. The two-year period was initially intended to deal with the backlog. He also noted that some cases did take some time to finalise due to their nature. However, the OPP was attempting to scale down the time frame, in practice, to six months and below.

Adv C Johnson (ANC) enquired as to why the collaboration plan that was mentioned in the Annual Report between the OPP and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and The Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) had not been achieved.

The Chairperson echoed concerns about a lack of communication between the three institutions. 

Adv Mushwana acknowledged the importance of collaboration and emphasised that there was indeed collaboration, but acknowledged it was not structured. He further pointed out that lack of key staff in other institutions impeded effective collaboration. He noted that OPP was also engaged in international programmes.

Adv Johnson further noted that the OPP Media Communication Strategy had only been achieved in part, and sought further clarification.

Adv L Joubert (DA) noted that most complaints related to service delivery issues such as the issue of ID documents. He wanted to know whether any investigation had been done into benchmarks, such as for example, requiring ID documents to be issued within 30 days.

A Membernoted that the issue of IT was raised last year, and he wanted to know why a different company was not used. He requested further information on the state of the European Union (EU) funded initiative towards greater co-operation and collaboration in educating the public.

Advocate Lawrence Mushwana, Public Protector (PP) noted that some of the questions asked related to the previous financial year and those had been addressed at a previous meeting.

Imam G Solomon (ANC) noted that the primary function of the OPP, alongside other Chapter 9 institutions, was the strengthening of constitutional democracy and he enquired what else the OPP as doing to raise awareness of human rights, and how the constitutional democracy worked.

Mr Carrim expanded upon this, wondering how one could ensure the efficacy of workshops held. He also asked what would be done if a department did not cooperate with OPP.

Adv Mushwana noted that the OPP could not impose sanctions but could make recommendations to the legislature, including recommendations for compensation and disciplinary proceedings.

Dr T Delport (DA) noted that the OPP largely dealt with individual cases, and did not consider the larger picture. It had not addressed the “epidemic” of cases. He cited as an example the widespread failure of Masters’ Offices across the country. He further stated that there were many incompetent staff. He pointed to the problem that Ministers and Departments sometimes refused to comply with court orders. He further stated that there was a perception that the OPP was not seen as even-handed, drawing attention to the speed at which the finding on Mr Waters was finalised, whilst the “Oilgate” saga still dragged on.

[PMG note: Adv Mushwana’s response was inaudible.as the microphones were not used].

Office of the Public Protector: Financial Statements 2006/7
The presentation was presented by Mr Z Docrat, Chief Financial Officer, OPP, and was abbreviated due to time constraints. Although detailed graphs and pie charts were supplied to Committee Members, they were not discussed in depth. It was noted that the OPP had achieved its sixth successive unqualified audit.

Discussion
The Chairperson expressed concern that the entire ICT department of the OPP had resigned, and noted that this suggested institutional problems.

He further enquired as to why the CEO had been suspended.

Advocate Mushwana responded that the ICT unit was small and consisted of a few individuals, and at least one of the resignations was related to salary. He did concede that it was a critical unit.

In respect of the CEO, he stated that full details could not be made available as the matter was currently being heard, but that it related to administrate and management matters.

Ms Johnson noted that in 2006/2007, when operational problems were uncovered in the OPP, a special ad hoc committee was established. That Committee, having monitored the situation, noted great improvements but expressed concern over pending litigation between the PP and the Deputy PP. She asked if it had been resolved, or whether it was still pending.

[PMG note: Adv Mushwana’s response was inaudible.as the microphones were not used].

Adv Johnson remarked that the result could never be an injunction, but a recommendation, and noted the presence of a counterclaim.

[PMG note: Adv Mushwana’s response was inaudible.as the microphones were not used].

The Chairperson noted questions over perceptions of independence, and how the budget is allocated. He noted that this needed to be debated further and suggested a different forum. He also noted that if State Information Technology Agency was to be the only organisation permitted to provide ICT support to the OPP, it must have the capacity to do so.

Mr Docrat stated that the reason for compiling cases manually was the absence of a case management system. Initially, SITA was intended to have developed a system, but this did not work as intended and was abandoned. During the 2006/07 financial year, the OPP had acquired proposals from third parties, but in terms of relevant legislation, approval from SITA was needed before these parties could be engaged. The documents were with SITA and were awaiting their approval. It was likely that, because of the delays, this could probably only be completed in the 2008/09 financial year.

Mr Carrim expressed concern with this, and was unimpressed with SITA’s bureaucracy .The Committee needed to formulate questions around this, but he was unsure of how exactly this should be addressed in light of the OPP’s status as an independent Chapter 9 institution. He noted that the legal advisors would have to be consulted in this regard. 

The meeting was adjourned.

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