Political Overview by Minister Michael Masutha, 11 October 2016
I wish to express my profound indebtedness to you and the Honourable Members of this august Committee for granting me the opportunity to give a preview of the 2015/16 annual reports on the performance of the departments and entities which constitute the portfolio of the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services. The remarks I am making represent the views and perspectives of the entire Ministry, inclusive of Deputy Ministers, Jeffery and Makwetla.
Let me also take this opportunity to introduce the new Director-General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Vusi Madonsela and the Head of the Special Investigating Unit, Adv Andy Mothibi, both of whom assumed duty in their respective offices on 1 May 2016. I am also pleased to announce the permanent appointments of Adv JB Skosana as Deputy Director-General for Court Services and Ms Gabriella La Foy as the first Deputy Director-General for Constitutional Development, both of whom are also present here today.
Mr Madonsela, who is one of the longest serving Directors-General of our country since the advent of democracy in 1994, brings into the administration of justice sector a wealth of direct expertise from law practice as an Attorney at Law and remarkable public service senior management experience. Similarly, for his part, Adv Mothibi brings vast investigative experience against the background of his work in the fields of Legal Governance, Risk, Compliance and Audit in the public sector, the banking sector and more recently the fund management and medical benefits administration sector. We trust that under his leadership the SIU will be able to improve his performance.
I also wish to recognise the contribution and value that Justice Johann van der Westhuizen is adding to the oversight function of the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services.
In total, the Justice and Correctional Services portfolio has tabled 10 Annual Reports in Parliament this year, covering the work of both government departments and entities on the performance of work undertaken in the past financial year.
The Auditor General of South Africa has expressed an unqualified audit opinion on the Annual Financial statements of all departments and entities under the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, except in relation to Third Party Funds under the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. I must also mention that we are making progress in relation to the Third Party Funds as we have progressed from a disclaimer of opinion in the earlier years to a qualified opinion in the year under review.
With regards to Corrections, I am glad to inform the Committee that an unqualified audit opinion has been achieved in the 2015/16 financial year, for the first time in 22 years of freedom. We undertake to work hard to sustain this achievement. I will also like to congratulate the Legal Aid South Africa for their good work in respect of which the Auditor-General has expressed an unqualified audit opinion for the fifteenth year this year.
We are also strengthening good governance and consequence management across the entire portfolio. For example, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and the National Prosecuting Authority, combined, put 482 officials through disciplinary hearings for a wide range of offences during the 2015/16 financial year. A total of 75 officials were dismissed on grounds of misconduct and 19 resigned during the same period. In respect of Correctional Services 34 out of 35 officials charged were found guilty, of which 11 were dismissed.
Chairperson, the Special Investigating Unit continues to play a critical role in government’s commitment to fighting corruption. With a budget of approximately R499 million and staff compliment of 534 employees, the SIU is on course in discharging its mandate of investigating corruption and maladministration in government.
I have impressed upon the Heads of departments and entities in the portfolio to engage regularly in order to align the strategic plans and share good practices and lessons in their individual and collective endeavours to adhere to principles of good governance. A Forum of Heads has already been established for effective coordination in the execution of their respective mandates.
I now wish to turn briefly to general and specific matters of policy which are germane to the mandate of the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services.
At the heart of our transformation journey is a sacred promise to construct a new legal order for our country and its people that is founded on the principles and values of our constitution. The path we have traversed in the past 21 years of our constitutional democracy has largely focused on institutional reforms aimed at strengthening the governance machinery of the State. In that period, Parliament processed and passed in excess of 160 Bills in the Justice sector alone, which focussed mainly on shaping and reshaping various institutions, including the courts, and creating concomitant mechanisms, systems and processes that support democracy and enable the appropriate exercise of constitutional and public power.
The Constitution provides the basis for the overhaul of our country’s legal system. It envisions a renaissance of the legal system that predates it, which bears the visible hallmarks of the Roman Dutch law and English law, both of which, as a historical fact, found their way into our body of law through colonial conquest. The renaissance calls for the systematic creation of a new body of law through statutes, secondary legislation as well as progressive jurisprudence, all of which must be predicated on the Supremacy of the Constitution and the Rule of Law which is entrenched in section 1 of the Constitution. The renaissance of our legal system must uphold the founding values of our constitutional democracy, notably those of: (a) Human dignity, the achievement of equality, and the advancement of human rights; (b) Non racialism and non-sexism; as well as (c) language which is both a founding value and a human right.
The infusion of the above values into our law will ensure that our legal system, be it our criminal law or civil law, creates a just, caring and humane legal order that is responsive to the needs of the people it is destined to defend and protect.
We will also be tabling before Parliament a number of Bills which are key to our transformation discourse and these include the Traditional Courts Bill, legislation that criminalises racism and hate crimes as well as the Cyber Crimes Bill. These Bills are in our legislative programme for the current financial year. The Traditional Courts Bill, in particular, seeks to recognise the significance of the African traditional value system as part of dispute resolution. Let me, at this point, thank Deputy Minister John Jeffery, who together with his counterpart in the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Deputy Minister Obed Bapela, managed a difficult process of narrowing the gap between ourselves, traditional leaders and civil society organisations regarding the contents of the Bill. We are commencing with the processes of introducing the Bill into Parliament and I trust that this Committee will soon be seized of the matter. Some of the principles in respect of which there is general consensus are: (a) the nature of the courts; (b) progressive measures to promote equal participation of women in the traditional courts; (c) the consensual nature of the courts which incorporate the right to opt in or out; and (d) enforcement mechanisms which will be implemented by Justices of the Peace who will be drawn from the ranks of paralegals.
We have also identified other niche areas where the services of paralegals will be of immediate use, while the development and enactment of legislative reforms are underway in order to address the regulation and professionalization of paralegalism. These areas include their participation in providing assistance to the parties in relevant aspects of proceedings before the Equality Courts and in the Court-Annexed mediation processes. In the interim we are setting-up an multi-sectoral structure to address matters relating to accreditation and training of paralegals.
We are on course with the project on the rationalisation of magisterial districts, having finalised four of the nine provinces, namely, Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Free State and the Northern Cape Provinces are earmarked to be completed in the current financial year.
In relation to court infrastructure, the Department manages a total of 778 Magistrates’ Courts and 20 Superior Courts across the country. The Limpopo High Court commenced functioning from 25 January this year. Preparations for its official opening by the Honourable President Zuma during the month of November this year are at an advanced stage.
We are also pursuing the establishment of multi-door court precincts where local seats of the High Court are established at the seats of the Magistracy, with separate entrances. We have earmarked Lephalale and Upington Magistrates’ Courts for this purpose for as pilot sites. One stop court centres will enhance access to justice as the Magistrate’s Courts and High Court will be situated in the same precinct.
As part of promoting access to justice we have established 40 Small Claims Courts in the year under review. In all, we have 20 Small Claims Court to designate in order to have full coverage in all magisterial districts. Of the 20, 7 will be designated in this month.
The transformation of the legal profession remains one of our key priorities. We are developing policies regarding the allocation of State’s legal work to attorneys and advocates in private practice and consultations with the legal profession are continuing in that regard.
This is the first occasion that the performance of the Office of the Chief Justice is presented separately from the work of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. As you are aware, the Constitution assigns to the Chief Justice the responsibility to establish norms and standards for court performance. Following the historic meeting between the Heads of the Judiciary and the Executive Arm of the State on 27 August 2015, work is underway to build constructive interface between them. In furtherance of this work, there are on-going discussions between the Chief Justice and I to devise a mechanism to facilitate a free flow of information between us.
The National Prosecuting Authority continues to excel in its performance against set targets and it has attained in the overall 93% conviction rate during the period under review. The conviction rate in sexual offences continues to improve, albeit slightly, from the previous year (up by 1% to 70%), with 4 978 convictions.
We are succeeding in turning our correctional centres into corrective institutions that continue to reform offenders. As part of this effort, the percentage of offenders who participate in skills development programmes currently stands at 91% against a set target of 4, 668. The efficiency of our rehabilitation programmes can be applauded by judging parolee compliance with the conditions of parole. Percentage of parolees without violations per annum is 98,7% against a target of 51 937, while that of probationers stand at 98,65% as against a target of 16, 640. The percentage of parolees and probationers reintegrated back into communities through Halfway House partnerships stands at 79% against a set target of 140 cases. Honourable Members, I have taken note of, and I am considering the Committee’s recommendation to reopen the Halfway House in Johannesburg and name it after the late Councillor Nonhlanhla Mthembu who died during the swearing-in ceremony of councillors of the City of Johannesburg. This is in acknowledgment of her role in setting up the House. May her soul rest in peace.
As I conclude my remarks, I would like to thank the Committee for its leadership and meticulousness in carrying out its oversight responsibility over this titanic portfolio. We are indebted to your insightful leadership and guidance.I thank you for your attention.