Chairperson, at the outset, and on behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party, allow me to once again congratulate Justice Zondo on his appointment as Head of the Judiciary and the Constitutional Court.
Chairperson, in the fulfilment of its duties in the provision of efficient technical and administrative support to the Chief Justice, as Head of the Judiciary and as Head of the Constitutional Court, as well as the rendering of administrative, operational and governance support to the Judiciary, in a manner which fulfils the requirement of judicial independence, is it not high time that the Office of the Chief Justice receives its own budget, and no longer reports to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services?
Such a step, in my opinion, would be commensurate with government’s efforts to ensure not only that the Judiciary is assisted in the fulfilment of its constitutional obligations but also, more importantly, protect the independence of courts from actual and/or perceived political interference.
For effective and efficient court administration it is also extremely important that we capitalise on the opportunity afforded us by the challenges and adversity that arrived with the advent of Covid-19 in 2020, and which resulted in us all being plunged into the 4th Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things (IoT). In taking advantage of this, by not allowing any crisis to go to waste, the Judiciary should be utilising this period to modernise its infrastructure, using technology and innovation to ensure effective and efficient court administration. According to the Portfolio Committee Report, “ICT infrastructure upgrades are expected to cost R22.4 million over the medium term.” However, we believe this necessary expense will improve access to justice for all in South Africa, help reduce court backlogs and delays, and improve information and data management.
As the IFP, we further welcome the OCJ’s commitment to internal controls and the ongoing commitment to the implementation of their fraud prevention and anti-corruption strategy.
Let us be under no misapprehensions, Hon. Chairperson, our Constitution and Judiciary, which remain the last check-and-balance on state overreach and abuse of power, are under attack from the enemies of our constitutional order. This is not unique to South Africa. It is a hydra which is raising its head the world over, as governments seek to encroach and manipulate the sanctity of judicial independence for their own ends.
It is therefore imperative that this is acknowledged by government rally behind our courts and Constitution, and do everything within their power to ensure that they arrest the decline of the Judiciary.
According to AfroBarometer, only 42% of South Africans say that they have faith and trust in our courts. We are on the very edge of the precipice, Hon. Chairperson. Let us therefore make a concerted effort to reclaim the lofty esteem and independence of our Judiciary and courts. We must strive to make constitutionalism and democracy in our Republic an unsullied vestige and sanctuary for both present and future South Africans.
In closing, we would like to register our concern at the news that “In 2022/23, the number of personnel decreases by 56 to 2425”. The OCJ is at the coalface when it comes to combatting and meting out punishment to those that have committed crimes, especially as we prepare for a flurry of State Capture prosecutions. This Office cannot afford to be understaffed. We appeal to government to re-look the Budget with the possibility of diverting funds to ensure the OCJ is fully staffed.
The IFP supports the Budget Vote.
I thank you.