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Budget Vote Policy Statement 2020/21 Delivered by Minister Ronald Lamola on 23 July 2020, in the Parliament of South Africa, Mini Plenary Virtual

Honourable Chairperson
Deputy Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery;
Deputy Minister for Correctional Services, Inkosi Phatekile Holomisa;
Honourable Members;        
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

I would like to use this occasion to pay homage to all judicial officers and officials who succumbed to COVID-19.

Honourable Chairperson, as the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, we are grateful to the Justice Heroes and Heroines in the judiciary, magistracy, officials in the courts, Legal Aid, National Prosecution Authority and Correctional Services, who keep the wheels of justice turning everyday across the length and breadth of our country during this pandemic of COVID-19.

We present this budget during a difficult economic climate and in the midst of a global pandemic. During difficult times, I fondly invoke my favorite latin phrase Respice, Prospice (to look back is to look forward). In other words, what does history tell us about the difficulties we see today?

Fortunately, we have the 1918 Spanish Flu as a reference point. It is a historical fact that Pandemics depress an economy, not just public health interventions.

If anything, public heath interventions such as physical distancing requirements address the fact that economic activity in a pandemic is also reduced in the absence of such measures, as households reduce consumption and labor supply to lower the risk of becoming infected, and firms cut investments in response to increased uncertainty.

The budget vote we are presenting before this august house for approval, seeks to make our criminal justice system accessible and effective. The Total departmental budget for 2020/2021 financial year was reduced by Four Hundred and Sixteen Million Rands from Twenty Two point Four Billion Rands to Twenty One point nine Billion Rands.

The Four Hundred and Sixteen Million Rands budget cut includes One Hundred and Eleven Million rands on compensation of employees, One Hundred Twenty- Two Million Rands on court infrastructure, One Hundred and Fifty Million rands from NPA,  Ten Million Rands from SIU and Twenty Three Million Rands from Legal Aid South Africa.

In this revised budget allocation, One Hundred Thirty Million Rands was allocated to the State Capture commission and Three Hundred Thirty Four Million Rands is earmarked through savings, for Covid-19 related expenditure such as PPE procurement and decontamination of offices and justice service points.

The departmental focus and impetus on modernisation, digitisation and business continuity challenges during the Covid-19 period, necessitated the revision and increasing the budget for information technology and modernisation from Five Hundred Twenty Nine Million Rands to Six Hundred Sixty Three Million Rands supplemented with a further planned expenditure of six hundred eighty eight million on the integrated Justice System programme.

To ensure maintenance of Building and Infrastructure, an amount of Sixty Four million Rands is allocated to Day to Day Maintenance of courts. Twenty Four point Four Million Rands is set aside for upgrading of justice infrastructure.

The budget being tabled makes provision for allocations to Entities under the Control of the Justice Ministry. Two billion Rand is allocated to Legal Aid South Africa, Four Hundred Forty Two Million Rands to the Special Investigations Unit, Three Hundred Thirty Three Million Rands to the Public Protector of South Africa and Two Hundred Million Rands to the South African Human Rights Commission.

Honourable Chairperson;

In 2019, we had set our eyes on modernizing the justice system.

COVID-19 has laid bare missed opportunities over the past couple of years to modernize our justice system in order to have a direct bearing on how people particularly of working class communities can access the system.

To this end, I am pleased that our Domestic Violence Bill will introduce modernization in a radical form. If passed, our domestic violence bill will make it possible for one to apply for a protection order online. This will be a leap forward in the fight against gender based violence and femicide. This is the first of several reforms we want to introduce. For instance, there is no reason why uncontested divorce applications and maintenance applications cannot be done online.

Our nation can truly benefit from a modernized and integrated justice system. In the previous financial year, we managed to roll out the Person Identification and Verification Application (PIVA) system which is located in South African Police Service stations. It enables the identity of arrested individuals to be verified using their fingerprints and checked against the Department of Home Affairs records.

More than 227,098 accused persons have been verified via this system and over 135,968 of these individuals (60%) had prior criminal records that could be referenced. Further 6,205 (2.3%) wanted persons could be identified and linked to SAPS circulations as persons of interest for other cases.

This timeous information is assisting SAPS and NPA during the subsequent management of accused persons and provides data to assist bail considerations. As at March 2020, the South African Social Security Services had verified 154 974 beneficiaries.

On 18 July 2019, we reached a key milestone by undertaking the first fully paperless case trial simulation. All parties in court were able to use their own laptops and /or mobile tablets to access and refer to digital versions of case materials.

We completed the digital case bundle pilot at Johannesburg High Court and Pretoria High Court which was successful and we operationalized it at both these two sites. The project has established a centralized Court e-Filing helpdesk to provide support to both internal stakeholders (judges and court officials) and external stakeholders (legal practitioners).

In this financial year, we will focus on increasing user-ability, training and expanding this system across the country.
Having said that, Honourable members, I would like to emphasize that our criminal justice system does require significant reforms.

We will be initiating the process of reforming the Criminal Procedure Act this financial year to address some of the systemic challenges and modernization of the act.

Honourable Members, our MOJA pay system had some challenges for a couple of months. The system has been resorted to full functionality and backlog payments are being addressed. We have enlisted the CSIR to assist and conduct a forensic investigation to establish what caused failures in the system. If it is found that there was a human intervention in the failure, rest assured that implicated individuals will not be sparred accountability.

House Chairperson:

We need everyone in society to tackle the scourge of gender-based violence. President Ramaphosa has characterized gender based violence and femicide as the second pandemic that we have to contend with. Gender based violence and femicide continue to erode the rights of women in particular. Women no longer feel safe in any space in South Africa. Although the Criminal Justice system is not a sliver bullet, it is critical in the fight against gender based violence and femicide.

The criminal justice system must be able to respond with the required level of sensitivity to the most vulnerable in society. It must continue to place victims at the centre.

In the past financial year, we have unveiled 13 sexual offences courts across the country which are victim centric in nature.

With your assistance Honourable members, we now have 4 Gender Based violence related legislation, namely,
Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, Judicial Matters Amendment Act Recognition of Customary Marriages Amendment Act and Prescription in Civil and Criminal Matters (Sexual Offences) Amendment Act

Soon, Honourable members, we will be seized with three pieces of legislation which further seek to address Gender Based Violence. These will amend the National Sexual Offenders Register, the Domestic Violence Act, and Regulate bail conditions for people who are accused of committing a sexual offence.

We have resolved that in the financial year 2020/2021, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development will introduce Femicide Watch, which is a special monitoring system to highlight and track violent crimes committed against women.

Honourable Members, the fight against corruption undoubtedly requires us to have strong state institutions which have both technological and human resources capacity. State institutions like the National Prosecuting Authority must have the capability to tackle any case in which valuable resources of this great nation have been diverted for the benefit of individuals at the expense of our society especially the poor.

If individuals in positions of authority and great responsibility derail our path to social justice by stealing that which was intended to reconstruct South Africa, our justice system must be able to respond adequately, with certainty and  with celerity.

Corruption, including white collar and commercial crime, remains a challenge, both in the public and private sector. It directly affects the ability of the state to deliver much needed services to the poor and the vulnerable.
We are working to rebuild the NPA to be an effective, efficient and ethical prosecutorial organisation that prosecutes without fear, favour or prejudice.

The fight against corruption was intensified systematically during the year under review, with several short- and long-term initiatives being implemented. President Ramaphosa appointed two Deputy National Directors of Public Prosecutions. We are pleased that the NPA is beginning to fill key vacancies at leadership level and we look forward to filling more vacancies across board. These appointments are essential for the efficient functioning and rebuilding of the NPA as part of efforts to fight against crime and corruption.

In the last financial year, the NPA secured an increase of 17.8% in the number of persons convicted of either public and/or private sector corruption. During this period, a 94% conviction rate was obtained through the finalization of 422 cases with a verdict and convictions of 416 persons. Work on other high profile cases involving complex commercial crimes is continuing.

We have also mobilized resources to enable the NPA to ensure long term success and to attract a caliber of graduates who will bring new energy to the institution. The NPA has reintroduced the aspirant prosecutors’ programme that was closed five years ago due to lack of resources. Under this programme, young graduates gain practical prosecutors experience which prepares them for future roles.

In the last financial year, the Asset Forfeiture Unit obtained 326 freezing orders to the value of One point nine Billion Rands. This shows that work is being done. In this financial year, we will explore a new regulatory regime for the Asset forfeiture unit to empower them to seize assets which have been acquired through unexplained wealth.

The Special investigation unit tribunal has been formally established. To date, it has dealt with 24 Cases. The Special Investigation unit has in the last financial year completed 17 investigations. In the same period, 30 Proclamations were issued and these include proclamations on Eskom, Denel and SAA amongst others. Closer to home in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, we have had a proclamation on the Masters and State Attorney offices. We look forward to implementing outcomes of these investigations.

Similarly, the Special Investigating Unit will increase the recovery orders in the special tribunal. Through the special investigating unit, we will also enhance the state’s data analytics capacity to enable the state to have a nuanced perspective on corruption. The President will soon announce an SIU proclamation on COVID-19 related corruption. These alleged corrupt activities must be frowned upon by all of us as it undermines the glue that has kept society together in the fight against COVID-19.

Transformation of the Legal Profession

House Chairperson, as we celebrate Nelson Mandela International month, we look to his trials and tribulations for inspiration.

It is common cause that there are barriers and impediments in the legal profession that lead to exclusion of black people, particularly women and we will address this. Tata Mandela, himself as a practicing attorney, faced several hardships in his career including applications to be struck off the roll of attorneys. One of the reasons advocated for this action was that his conviction in the 50s for being a volunteer in chief in the Defiance Campaign, made him guilty of an offence involving moral turpitude.

In Mandela’s 1993 speech to the Law Society of Transvaal, he said the following: “I decided to ask the commanding officer of Robben Island to arrange for me to appear personally to oppose the second application to struck me off the roll brought soon after my conviction at the Rivonia Trial of 1964. The thought of my being brought to Pretoria and being seen in an open court must have convinced those who initiated the application to withdraw it.

“Here I am, with my name still on the roll,” concluded Mandela then.

Transformation is not only about demographic representation, but it is also about the quality of work that previously disadvantaged individuals receive. Therefore, we welcome the commitment by the financial sector through the Competition Commission of South Africa, particularly the major banks in the country, to reform their briefing patterns. Reforms in the private sector will open up the market to more players.

Honourable Members

Reforming the State Attorney’s office is a major priority. I am pleased to announce that changes are well underway. We have operationalized the State Attorneys Amendment Act of 2014 and appointed an Acting Solicitor General with a mandate to stabilize the State Attorney’s Office by providing strategic leadership and management of all the Offices across the country within 24 months. In this regard, seven vacancies of Heads of State Attorney across the country, are in the proses of being filled.

Ultimately Honourable members, the state attorney must leverage on state owned enterprises and all government departments to transform the legal profession.

Land Justice in our lifetime

As we mourn the passing on of our liberation stalwart ntate Andrew Mlangeni, we are reminded of his sharp views on the land question. In an interview on this subject, Ntate Mlangeni said, “the moment I was conceived, I was destined to be a farm worker under the farm labour tenant system. Many people still suffer as a result of this brutal system.”

Mlangeni was born in a farm, his family did not lay a claim to the farm, as a result of laws of dispossession such as the Native Land Act of 1913, moving from one white-owned farm to the next in search of a place to live.

Isitwalandwe was resolute that the resolution taken by the ANC’s national conference in December 2017 to expropriate land without compensation is necessary, but must be done in an orderly manner.

This financial year, the process to transfer the legal representation function (and related budget) currently undertaken by the Land Rights Management Facility in the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, will be transferred to Legal Aid SA.

This transfer will ensure that Legal Aid SA has both the finances and capacity required to broaden its reach to the indigent especially those who seek land justice.

We will also be introducing the Land Court Bill with the aim of establishing a Land Court, which replaces the Land Claims Court in the current system. Under this bill, the Land Court will have the jurisdiction to deal with certain identified national laws which have a bearing on land and also promote and provide for Alternative Dispute Resolution structures similar to those of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). This special court will play a critical role in land jurisprudence.

As I sign off commitment to this process, the President has already approved the establishment of two permanent posts in the Land Claims Court which were supposed to have been filled in the last round of the JSC, hopefully they will be filled in the next round.

Constitutionalism

Honourable Members, next year marks a quarter of a Century since South Africa became a non-racial, non-sexist, united and democratic state.

Our Constitutional democracy underpinned by a progressive world class constitution remains resilient, robust and evolving. Our Constitution, regardless of the challenges that the nation has experienced over the past years, has served our people well. The commitment to build and deepen Constitutionalism, respect for Human Rights and the Rule of law continues.

This commitment is the greatest tribute we can pay to the late Rivonia Trialist, Tata Andrew Mlangeni. His generation fought for us to live in a society that recognises and affirms all South Africans regardless of their race or gender.

Next year we will commemorate a historic milestone, which is 25 years since the adoption and final certification of our Constitution. This presents our nation an opportunity to reflect and take stock of how far we have come in implementing the priorities and objectives of our Constitution.

It is an opportunity to review how the resilience and strength of our Constitutional order has been tested. Since our Constitution is a living document and social contract between the state and the people, it was not meant to be static but dynamic. Programmes will be put in place to observe this historic milestone and have the Nation engage in a conversation about the state of our Constitutional order.

Conclusion

In conclusion house chairperson, we have heard cries of South Africans who yearn for justice. These include women who are violated, poor people who are unlawfully and unconstitutionally evicted under extreme inhumane conditions and paraded in the media, some naked, black legal professionals whose law firms face closure due to skewed briefing patterns, South Africans who want those who plummeted resources of the country to face consequences of their actions and serve prison sentences and to recover millions of resources that were looted through corruption. 

In the words of the Reverend Joseph Lowery, South Africans are saying to us: We are not going back, we have come too far, marched too long, prayed too hard, wept too bitterly, bled profusely, and died too young to let anybody turn back the clock on our journey to justice.

I thank you!