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Opening Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, 18 November 2020

Chairperson,
Honourable Members,

Good morning to you all and thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee this morning.

I think it’s important that, in order to provide some context to this very vast portfolio, we must make mention of the fact that in addition to various service points like the Master of the High Court, the Family Advocate and so forth, our Department is responsible for the day-to-day running of a total of 2 283 court rooms in 748 courthouses.

Although we do not build, refurbish or maintain the courts ourselves – as this is done by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure – we have, over the years, succeeded in bringing access to justice closer to the people of our country.

Minister Lamola has, after consensus was reached with the Regional Court Presidents, proclaimed new civil seats for Regional Courts which come into effect on 1 December this year.  Effectively every Regional Court will have civil jurisdiction. 
In addition to the courts and our National Office we have Regional Offices in all the provinces and we employ a total number of 15 840 public servants across the country.

Covid-19 has had a severe impact on court operations and on the workings of our Department. We have lost 6 Magistrates, 3 prosecutors and 17 administrative staff due to Covid-19. 
The administration of justice has been impoverished by their sad departure.

The Acting Director-General will be responding, in her presentation, to the matters identified by the Auditor-General yesterday.
In her presentation she will be highlighting the various audit outcomes, the audit action plan as well as the various interventions planned. She will be assisted by our Acting Chief Financial Officer who will explain the budgetary aspects of the presentation.

I would like to focus on programme performance.
It is common cause that many issues have been raised regarding the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s performance.
In a sense you will be focusing on the same issues raised in the meeting of 13 October 2020.

are acutely aware of these issues and are busy implementing a rescue plan to address these and other issues.
It is also important to note that there have been areas in which the Department did achieve its targets and we need to ensure that we sustain the momentum in these areas, for example, much has been achieved in the areas of modernization and digitization of our courts.
More important is the fact that we have made strides in areas that have a positive impact on our quest to enhance access to justice and to improve service delivery.

not been adequate, the targets were missed by small margins.
But what is most important is that where performance has not been satisfactory we are in a position to explain why this is the case and to elaborate on our plans to improve performance.

With regards to the turnaround in the administration of the Department a three-day strategic planning session was held in October, after the meeting with the Committee, to address various departmental challenges and under-performance.

The sessions were attended by both the Minister and I and robust discussions were held.

At the strategic session I remarked that we are all fully aware of the factors which hamper or affect departmental performance, like the lack of a permanent Director-General, other vacancies in senior posts, the disciplinary processes against four members of senior management which are currently underway, budget constraints and now also Covid-19.

These were not raised in defence, but as factors that must be mitigated.

We then undertook an intense root-cause analysis of the many problems that affect Departmental performance and a very practical and implementable Rescue Plan has been developed which will be shared with this Committee at an opportune time.
The senior management of the Department has given a firm and resolute commitment to take accountability and to lead from the front in addressing the unsatisfactory performance.

The highlighted areas in the Rescue Plan will be monitored on a weekly basis.

Another important aspect is the need to ensure that performance agreements are aligned to organizational performance as set out in audit outcomes.

Plans relating to stakeholder management – such as the various unions – are also a focus area.
With regards to the development of an Annual Performance Plan, it is imperative that there is alignment with the budget.
In addition, various initiatives have been undertaken to ensure that the Department turns around its performance.  
In the current financial year the focus is on improving performance and I want to highlight the following initiatives:

Members will know that one area which the Auditor-General highlighted in his report yesterday is the issue of collaboration.
Working in silos is something we see across government and also something we experience in our own Department.
Just be way of an example, we have now put together a multi-stakeholder forum that meets regularly with the aim of optimizing court performance.

I think we can all safely assume that Covid-19 is going to be with us for quite a while in the foreseeable future and we are going to have to think “out of the box” to ensure that we deliver services in an ever-changing world.

Chairperson and Members,
The Minister will also be providing further details on the Department’s performance when he leads the delegation before this Committee on Friday.

But let me assure Members that we are, at all times, cognizant of the words of the Chairperson when he previously said that when it comes to measuring performance these are not “targets” or numbers, but the lives of people and that if we do not deliver we are, I quote, “betraying the lives of South Africans.”
Whether it be a maintenance beneficiary, or a Guardian’s Fund beneficiary, or a survivor of sexual offences, or a parent going through a divorce who is needing the help of the Family Advocate, or someone in the Small Claims Court – these are not numbers or targets, these are people.

And people are even more vulnerable now, because of Covid-19, than they were before.
These are people who rely on us – and we simply cannot fail them.

With this Committee’s assistance and support the Minister and I remain confident that progress is being made. The situation can be turned around and we know that the Department can live up to the ideals of accessible justice for all.
I now request the Honourable Chairperson to allow the Acting Director-General to proceed with her presentation.

Thank you.