The Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) spent a large amount of money on travel in the 2017/18 financial year. In recent months Judges Matter and journalist Niren Tolsi have been raising troubling questions about the management of the Office of the Chief Justice. This high travel bill reinforces their concerns. We sent questions to Nathi Mncube, spokesperson for the Judiciary, asking him to explain these expenses.
To understand the questions, it is helpful to either read Vote 22 of the Budget, a ten-page document, or to look at the following table (page 4 in the linked PDF file, but labelled page 460 because it is part of the larger budget document):
The item that stands out in this table is the travel expenditure: R113.6 million in 2017/18. It is on this figure that most of our questions were based.
The interview below is very slightly edited and interspersed with explanatory comments.
GroundUp: According to the OCJ vote goods and services expenditure, R113.6 million was spent on travel and subsistence in 2017/18. The average travel and subsistence expenditure in the past few financial years was 40.2% of the vote.
Mncube: Inaccurate: 2017/18 it was 11.17%; 2016/17 it was 9.71%; 2015/16 it was 11.36%
GroundUp note to readers: The percentages Mncube gives are for the entire OCJ expenditure which includes, for example, judges' salaries. But the travel expenses were 41% of the OCJ's Goods and Services expenditure of R276 million in 2017/18.
GroundUp: This is a surprisingly large number, given there are about 240 judges in the country.
Mncube: Inaccurate: The cost is not only for Judges but includes travel related costs for Judges, all OCJ officials, Magistrates and traditional leaders for SAJEI training, witnesses' costs (travelling, accommodation and meal expenses) in criminal cases in Superior Courts and travelling and accommodation for applicants for job interviews in the OCJ.
GroundUp: Additionally, 80% of this annual travel and subsistence expenditure went toward Indaba Travel [the in-house travel agent for the Office of the Chief Justice].
Mncube: Please refer to our previous response. With the funds paid over to Indaba Travel, they have to pay all service providers as per our list provided.
GroundUp: What percentage of the travel and subsistence expenditure is spent on Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng's travel?
Mncube: Over the past two financial years the average of the Chief Justice's travel expenses is 1% of the travel budget. (R1.967 million out of R198.783 million).
GroundUp: How many flights, on average, does the Chief Justice take every year?
Mncube: This depends on the Chief Justice's programme and operational requirements, not only locally as the Leader of the judicial branch of the state but also regionally and internationally. For instance, South Africa chaired the Executive Bureau of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice (WCCJ) for a year led by the Chief Justice. South Africa continues to be a member of the said Bureau to date. In addition, the Chief Justice is the President of the Conference of Constitutional Jurisdictions of Africa (CCJA) a regional body of the WCCJ, since April 2017 which term will end in June 2019. To discharge the responsibilities attached to these roles entails travelling and related support.
GroundUp: What class does he fly?
Mncube: The Chief Justice is entitled to fly first class internationally and business class locally.
GroundUp: How many stars are the hotels that he stays in?
Mncube: The Chief Justice is entitled to stay in 5 star hotel accommodation.
GroundUp: How many conferences does the Chief Justice attend every year? Please provide a list of the conferences.
Mncube provided this table:
2016/17 Financial Year
22 - 25 September 2016
Southern African Chief Justices' Forum's Annual General Meeting, Windhoek Namibia
08 to 13 March 2017
World Conference on Constitutional Justice Bureau meeting, Venice, Italy.
2017/18 Financial Year
26 June to 02 July 2017
17th Congress of the Conference of the European Constitutional Courts, Batumi, Georgia.
07 to 14 July 2017
2017 National Association for Court Management (NACM) and International Association for Court Administration (IACA) Joint International Conference, Arlington, Virginia, USA
07 to 12 August 2017
14th Anniversary of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Indonesia and International Symposium, Solo, Indonesia
21 to 25 August 2017
African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice Continental Conference on "Collaboration between the Judiciary and Community Justice Institutions on Access to Justice", Kigali, Rwanda
09 to 14 September 2017
4th Congress of the World Conference of Constitutional Justice, Lithuania
17 to 22 September 2017
17th Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific, Tokyo, Japan
17 to 22 October 2017
22nd Yerevan International Conference on "The Role of the Constitutional Courts in Overcoming Constitutional Conflicts", Yerevan, Armenia.
21 to 28 November 2017
Second International Seminar of the Conference of Constitutional Jurisdictions of Africa (CCJA), Algiers, Algeria.
28 November to 01 December 2017
11th World Conference of the International Organisation of Refugee Law Judges, Athens, Greece.
28 to 29 January 2018
30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
19 to 21 February 2018
Second Cairo High Level Meeting of the Chief Justices of the African Constitutional and Supreme Courts, Cairo, Egypt.
17 to 19 March 2018
13th Meeting of the Bureau of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice (WCCJ), Venice, Italy.
30 March to 7 April 2018
Visit to Supreme People's Court of China, Beijing, China
(Based on the above table GroundUp calculates that the Chief Justice travelled overseas on official business 13 times in 2017/18. This came to 72 days.)
GroundUp: Besides one Indaba travel agent, who else travels with the Chief Justice?
Mncube: The Support Staff in the Private Office of the Chief Justice. Normally two officials.
(In other correspondence GroundUp determined that R90.8 million of the R113.6 million spent on travel went to the Indaba travel agency based in the OCJ. Hence the next question.)
GroundUp: What percentage of the R90.8 million paid to Indaba goes toward agents' commission?
Mncube: No commission is paid to Indaba Travel. Service fees are paid as per tender schedule. The OCJ does not keep record of what percentage goes to Indaba Travel.
GroundUp: What percentage of the total travel and subsistence expenditure goes toward stipends, per diems, and/or benefits to judges/staff?
Mncube: There are no stipends paid to Judges and officials. But they are all entitled to claim subsistence and travelling expenses incurred in line with public service and Judges conditions of employment and remuneration prescripts, respectively. The S&T is claimed by all mentioned in paragraph 1 above.
(The following two questions deal with how the travel and subsistence expenditure is broken down further into Judicial Education and Support and Superior Court Services.)
GroundUp: Why is R31.6 million spent on travel and subsistence within Programme 3: Judicial Education and Support? This is 40% of programme expenditure. Please provide an explanation/breakdown for this number.
Mncube: This expenditure is based on the operational training requirements of the Judiciary and covers the total cost of travel expenses for Judges, Magistrates, training facilitators and support staff required for judicial training purposes. The details re the number of training courses conducted for each financial year are contained in the relevant OCJ Annual Reports.
GroundUp: Why is R73.9 million spent on travel and subsistence within Programme 2: Superior Court Services (9.6% of programme expenditure)? Please provide an explanation/breakdown for this number.
Mncube: The bulk of the OCJ budget is under Programme 2. It can therefore be expected that the bulk of travel expenses would also be for this Programme. These travel expenses cover all the travelling expenses of Judges, court officials, witnesses and job interviewees as part of OCJ operations. The OCJ does not keep individual statistics re breakdown of travel for all Judges (251), officials in Programme 2 (1700), Magistrates attending training and witnesses appearing in the courts.