Justice Budget Vote: Approach Appropriations Committee for Legal Aid SA funding

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and several other institutions receive their allocation under the Justice and Constitutional Development Vote. These other institutions include the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA); Legal Aid South Africa; Special Investigating Unit (SIU); South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and Public Protector South Africa (PPSA).

It is clear to us in the ACDP that the department, NPA, Legal Aid SA, SIU, SAHRC, and PP are suffering severe financial challenges which is impacting service delivery in the criminal and civil justice sphere. This is due to the constrained fiscal environment resulting in a R2 billion baseline cut to the department’s budget over the same period. The baseline reduction for the department for this year 2018/19 is as follows: R200 million from Court services; R43.7 million from the Administration programme; R49 million from State Legal Services; R200 million from the NPA; and R92.8 million from Legal Aid SA. How can we expect the department, NPA, Legal Aid Board and other entities to deliver services when they are not properly funded?

We must also ask how we landed in this constrained fiscal environment. It is partially due to additional funding required for unbudgeted items such as free higher education and training.

More importantly, it is because the Zuma administration allowed itself to be captured by the interests of a select few or family. This has resulted in billions of rands being siphoned off from departments and SOEs. If you don’t believe me, look at the evidence we have uncovered in the Eskom Inquiry. The level of state capture at this and other SOEs is indeed staggering and has cost the fiscus dearly.

In this regard, I wish to commend the NPA, and its Asset Forfeiture Unit for eventually obtaining a number of preservation orders pertaining to Gupta-related companies and state capture. How these people escaped justice for so long is a severe indictment on us all particularly given that the facts were made known in the Public Protector’s State Of Capture Report in 2016. But better late than never. Let’s prosecute those responsible and recover those ill-gotten gains. We don’t have to wait for the outcome of the Zondo Commission.
It is time to accept political responsibility for the fact that we as Parliament are not able to properly fund the department and various institutions reporting to us.

For example, the excellently-run Legal Aid SA has indicated that it will not be able to provide legal representation as required due to budget cuts in the medium term.

Before dealing with this issue, I would also like to thank Judge President Dunstan Mlambo for succeeding in making Legal Aid SA the internationally acclaimed state institution that it is. He has been at the helm since 2002. It is then very unfair that such a tightly-run ship should have its budget cut by R92.8 million.

The budget cuts will lead to understaffing at courts. This in turn will lead to further court delays. The same applies to the NPA.

The committee approached the Minister of Finance in October last year to obtain additional funding for various entities, including the OCJ for the new Mpumalanga High Court, the department, NPA, SAHRC, the PP, and Legal Aid SA.

We specifically recommended that “the funding presently allocated by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to a private firm of attorneys to provide representation in land-related matters be transferred to Legal Aid SA.”

The committee has been informed that R185 million was paid to a private legal firm by the Department of Rural and Land Affairs for legal assistance with land claims. Since 2016 a new firm of attorneys dealt with 1,434 cases (of which 227 were finalised) at a cost of R130 million. This contract will expire this July.  The Committee believes that a firm decision must be taken to transfer the function of providing legal assistance in land matters to Legal Aid SA before a new contract is awarded.

Legal Aid SA can also play a key role in finalising outstanding land claims. This delay has resulted in much frustration for land claimants and adds to tensions around the land issue.

The Minister responded that “due to the constrained fiscal outlook, the scope to provide additional funding is limited”.

So how do we resolve this issue urgently? It does not help to wring our hands and say so sorry – no additional funds – go away – do your work. But we will hold you accountable for not reaching targets.

Firstly, accept political responsibility for the damage that state capture, widespread fraud and corruption has resulted in the poor financial state of government finances.

Secondly, make use of the provisions of section 10 of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, 2009. It is Parliament that appropriates funds and it is Parliament that can, within the fiscal framework, recommend adjustments.

In this regard, the ACDP recommended that the Committee approach the Appropriations Committee for funding for Legal Aid SA, and possibly other entities. We cannot sit back and allow our justice system to deteriorate due to underfunding. Let us stop wringing our hands in sympathy and take up our responsibility and do something to secure additional funding. Chairperson, I look forward to your feedback on your engagement with the appropriations committee after the committee accepted the ACDP’s proposal in this regard.

Lastly, the ACDP would like to thank all those magistrates, prosecutors, legal aid practitioners, court officials and Chapter 9 institutions who do their very best to uphold  justice on a daily basis under very challenging financial conditions.


SPEECH BY: STEVE SWART MP
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DEBATE: Budget Vote 21: Justice and Constitutional Development
9 May 2018