Statistics, it has been said, are ordinarily used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
Chairperson, the conviction rates again quoted here today by the Minister as so-called proof of the good performance of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the criminal justice system, must be put in perspective.
If we, for a moment, assess real numbers rather than percentages, the following figures illuminate the regression in performance by the NPA under the political leadership of this Minister.
Consider this: Since 2015/16 the NPA has been allowed to lower the target they set themselves in respect of cases finalised with a verdict in our lower courts for 2018/19 from 337 403 to 298 706 in 2018/19.
In respect of convictions relating to sexual offences, the target for convictions expressed as real numbers have been adjusted downwards from 5 869 to 4 602, while the number of Thuthuzela Care Centres (once hailed as proof that this government is a caring one that empathises with the plight of victims of sexual crimes) aimed to be operational have also been adjusted downwards from 68 to only 55.
Juxtapose this with the information that over the same period murder increased by 1.8%, sexual assault by almost 1%, robbery with aggravating circumstances by almost 6% and carjackings by a massive 14.5%.
This clearly and sadly indicates how the system is already increasingly failing to deliver justice to victims who, by their very nature, are wholly dependent on this very system for safety and justice.
But Chair, this picture becomes even grimmer if we consider the manner in which the system keeps on failing us as South Africans in respect of the cardinal role it should play to fight the plague of corruption, state capture, fraud and theft that has so nearly robbed us of our constitutional integrity and freedom.
And yes, we have noted the massive increases in the targets set in respect of specifically the amounts to be recovered through corruption related prosecution and the concurrent freezing orders for this upcoming year.
But, given the inept and lackadaisical manner in which specifically the possible prosecution and arrests of the Guptas were handled earlier this year, when these crooks fled the country while apparently being under the constant surveillance of the Hawks, who acted under the guidance of the NPA, it would seem these targets are but a pipedream.
So, what must be done to turn this ship around?
Firstly Chair, the position of National Director of Public Prosecutions and the deputies stationed at the NPA headquarters should be filled by people who South Africans can trust to be not only competent but also committed to do this job without fear, favour or prejudice.
People like Shaun Abrahams, Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi have sucked out all public confidence in the leadership of the NPA through the manner in which they have undermined the rule of law through political manipulation of prosecutorial decisions.
Minister, while you are very eager to proclaim that you only have an overarching responsibility for the NPA, we know from the judgment in the Freedom Under Law case that you were prepared to dirty your hands and place your signature on an unlawful agreement with Mr Nxasana to get him to leave office - a move solely motivated by your zeal to serve your former political master, Jacob Zuma.
Now, President Ramaphosa, deliverer of New Dawns, Protector of our Constitution and King of the Walkers has asked for volunteers, people who are willing to be sent.
Here is a thought Minister: You can at least partially redeem yourself and for once do something of significance founded in sound, lawful reasoning. Just ask President Ramaphosa to send you with a note to Abrahams, Jiba and Mrwebi informing them that they should pack and leave - immediately.
Secondly chair, our justice and criminal justice systems are also under threat from budget cuts which now constitutes underfunding.
Are we to react to this apparent new normal of an ever shrinking budget with acceptance and a mild plea to National Treasury to look into assisting the NPA and Legal Aid, while also suggesting cost cutting measures to the role players in the justice system we oversee?
All of this while specifically Legal Aid has been operating without any of the trimmings and trappings so often associated with governmental indulgence long before the word austerity was first uttered post the 2009 recession.
No, what should happen is that the Department of Justice should embark on a critical evaluation of every position within its staff establishment in order to streamline its organogram in order to ensure that only essential positions remain.
The current way of assessing whether positions are to be deemed critical when they become vacant and are only filled then only tells us one thing: There are still non-essential positions in the staff establishment. We must act now, before service delivery is fatally wounded.
Werner Horn MP
DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development
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