MPs are so concerned about the declining performance of the Department of Justice that they want the Public Service Commission (PSC) to assist the underperforming department to get its house in order.
The portfolio committee on justice will make this recommendation to the National Assembly when it presents its Budget Review and Recommendations Report next week.
“We would want an assessment done as to what extent is the department fit for purpose. Having warm bodies is one thing but having warm bodies with the necessary capacity and strategic vision is another. Sometimes you find people occupying strategic positions with no operational capacity,” justice committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe told the Sunday Times this week.
In the 2019/20 financial year, the department underspent its budget by R754m. It incurred irregular expenditure of R800m and only achieved 51% of the targets it set for itself.
Its performance in the first quarter of the current financial year was at 45%.
The department has a budget is R22.4bn.
Explaining the unusual proposal, Magwanishe said the commission is enjoined by the law and the constitution to investigate, monitor and evaluate the administration, and the personnel practices, of the public service. It can also propose measures to ensure effective and efficient performance within the public service.
Magwanishe said the commission will not take over the work of the department but will assist in “capacitating” it.
“We want the commission to take a deep dive so that as parliament we are able to know exactly why the department fails to achieve its targets. Not achieving targets means you are not optimally servicing the people of SA,” he said.
The department has a 23.4% vacancy rate at senior management level and a number of acting appointments.
Bringing the vacancy rate down is one of the urgent tasks if the department is to be turned around, said Magwanishe. The committee had heard that the under-expenditure was partly due to unfilled positions.
It is also because of magistrates who are not appointed which is beyond the department as magistrates are appointed by the magistrates commission, he said.
“It will be important for us as parliament to get a holistic picture and that is why we need the public service commission to give us that picture and make recommendations as what needs to be done,” said Magwanishe.
MPs have repeatedly described the Master’s Office as “chaotic” and a concern. The office deals with deceased estates, liquidation of insolvent estates, registration of trusts and administration of the Guardian’s Fund for minors and mentally disabled people.
It is being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit. In September it was hacked in a cyber attack that resulted in the theft of R10m from the Guardian’s Fund.
While a new chief master, Martin Mafojane, assumed his duties earlier this month, MPs continue to raise concerns about the unit.
“If you go to the Master’s Office and see the chaos there. Most of the people who depend on that office are vulnerable people. It’s children as estates are supposed to be wound up.
If that unit is in disarray, vulnerable people in our society are not getting services,” Magwanishe said.
According to Magwanishe, justice minister Ronald Lamola understands the gravity of the situation and is committed to ensuring the department is turned around.
He said they have been working very well with the minister and stressed that the underperformance had not started under Lamola, but the department had been in decline over a period of time.
In an appearance before the committee earlier this month, Lamola admitted that his department’s performance was “worryingly on a continuous decline”.
“This decline stems from the fact that over the past couple of years, a culture of underperformance and little accountability without consequences has entrenched itself.
“Most concerning for honourable members, the department has at times unreasonably delayed filling critical vacancies across the board,” he said.
Lamola said his ministry’s assessment was that the administration needed to be re-engineered significantly for it to meet the expectations of South Africans.
“We are currently spearheading this process,” he said.