Vote 25: Justice and Constitutional Development – MINI PLENARIES (VIRTUAL) 14:00 – 16:15

Hon. CT Msimang

 

Honourable Chairperson,

This year marks the 25th anniversary of our Constitution. While a number of programmes are in the pipeline to commemorate this milestone, the IFP wishes to highlight critical areas that would benefit from any funds the Department would divert to such celebrations.

The Department of Justice is an essential service, whose functions have long been crippled by a lack of resources. This state of affairs was exacerbated by the pandemic. It is with this knowledge in mind that the IFP remains concerned about the budget reduction for the programmes of the Department.

The first area to be hit by budget cuts is the filling of critical vacancies across the Department, negatively affecting the Department’s service delivery, and compromising the rights of court users to access to justice. The IFP welcomes the filling of critical vacancies at the top of the organisational chart, however, the filling of crucial roles that are client-facing must be expedited, to allow efficient service delivery. The high vacancy rate in the Department has been compounded by the slow pace of the recruitment processes. The IFP trusts that the Department’s plan to finalise the reconfiguration of its structure will be implemented with the urgency it deserves.

The IFP has expressed, and wishes to express again, its disappointment in the consistent budget cuts experienced by Legal Aid SA. Since the 2015/16 period, Legal Aid has lost R449 million, and continues to lose funding. The bulk of this budget is allocated to employee costs, and as such, the budget cuts directly affect Legal Aid’s ability to assist those people who cannot afford private legal assistance. The IFP does not support any reduction to Legal Aid’s budget, which will lead to an increase in backlogged cases, affecting the right to access the courts and speedy legal process for far too many people. Further, budget cuts will directly impact the number of remand prisoners in our correctional facilities, as the already limited staff complement will continue to be stretched thin. The IFP notes that despite the persistent cuts, Legal Aid has managed to achieve impressive results, yet bears the brunt of the Department’s fiscal challenges.

The IFP has long been calling for the establishment of an independent, well-resourced anti-corruption Integrity Commission, under the auspices of Chapter 9, to investigate and prosecute high-level corruption in the public service. This Institution will strengthen our constitutional democracy and is even more vital now, with the release of large amounts of money for essential procurements.

As we look back at the work of the Constitution, and look forward at its potential impact, the IFP trusts that the Department of Justice is recognised, through appropriate funding, as a critical agent of transformation and buttress of the rule of law.

The IFP supports the Budget.

I thank you.