The Department of Justice and Correctional Services desperately needs renewal, that was what its Minister, Mr Ronald Lamola, told the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services.

Mr Lamola presented a political overview on the 2019/20 annual performance of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Department of Correctional Services, and the Office of the Chief Justice to the committee recently in a virtual meeting.

Last month the committee expressed its concern over the department’s declining performance, after it received a briefing from the department on its performance in the fourth quarter of the 2019/20 financial year and its first quarter performance for the 2020/21 financial year. The committee resolved to consider requesting the assistance of the Public Service Commission to address the department’s poor performance and the systematic challenges it experiences in order to improve its performance.

Among the concerns raised by the committee, was the problem of the vacancy rate at senior management level. It told the department that it cannot complain about the proposed budget cuts when it continues to miss its targets and underspend on its budget. The department reported that it used approximately R1.2 billion in irregular expenditure and underspent approximately R757 million in the 2019/20 financial year.

Mr Lamola has assured the committee that there is no more room for complacency at the department. He said the department’s role is to make the criminal justice system accessible. “It is critical to ensure that as much as possible, we have a criminal justice system which enhances the respect for the courts and obedience to the rule of law. These are no boxes to be ticked, but real-life problems,” he added.

Furthermore, he told the committee that he has called on the senior management in the department to conduct an analysis on the root causes of the problems in the department. The committee heard that some of the challenges identified from the report on the root causes analysis included instability at senior leadership level, lack of capacity, lack of proper performance management, lack of decisive decision-making and the lack of defined organisational culture that inevitably creates a culture of non-performance.

The Chairperson of the committee, Mr Bulelani Magwanishe, also raised his concern about the late finalisation of projects like the court in Tzaneen which was supposed to have been completed in 2007, but it was only opened recently, as well as the delay in bringing legislation, like the Land Courts Bill to Parliament.

Members of the committee raised their concerns about high profile people who escape the country when they have to face the justice system. They referred to the recent escape of Mr Shepherd Bushiri who is the founder and the leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering and who fled with his wife Mary last week to their home country of Malawi.

Committee member, Mr Werner Horn, said: “Ultimately, Minister, this is an issue that erodes public confidence in the justice system as a whole and you are one of the primary custodians of our justice system,” Mr Horn said, also citing the manner in which the Guptas, former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Bushiri left the country.

Mr Lamola said: “As we speak now, we can say that what has been provided to us is not really helpful, in particular with regard with the UAE (United Arab Emirates). We continue to engage with them, but it is becoming apparent to us that they are not really cooperating with the request that we have sent to them, of mutual legal assistance.”

Regarding the Bushiris, the committee heard that the Attorney General of Malawi was planning to appeal against the decision by a Malawi court to free the Bushiris.

By Rajaa Azzakani
21 November 2020