While fighting corruption and fraud remains a part of the Department of Justice's "core mandate", Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola conceded that key corruption-fighting institution the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) "is really financially constrained".
However, the department is in discussions with the National Treasury on how to protect the NPA's independence if it were to make use of private donor funding.
"Fighting corruption and fraud forms part of the department's core mandate. The levels of brazen corruption and avarice we see in our society can and must be halted," Lamola said at a media briefing on Tuesday following the debate on the department's budget.
"The various commissions of inquiry currently underway are part of the process of addressing fraud and corruption. The department will continue to provide the necessary administrative support to enable these commissions of inquiry to do their work."
He said the department would provide budgetary support to the establishment of the investigative directorate under the auspices of the NPA to deal with all cases emanating from these commissions.
"The investigative directorate will work collaboratively with the Special Investigating Unit [SIU], the SIU Special Tribunal and the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation [DPCI, also known as the Hawks] to ensure that perpetrators of acts of fraud and corruption are brought to book speedily.
"The regulations of the tribunal will be finalised shortly to enable this important institution to commence with the task of recovering moneys stolen through corruption and maladministration."
Last week, National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi briefed the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services. Among the NPA's internal challenges, she listed "severe budgetary limitations", which had led to high vacancy rates, low staff morale as well as limited professional development and training.
Because of the freeze on recruitment over the past three years, the NPA had lost out on the appointment of about 600 new prosecutors. It also overspent its budget by about R150m in the previous year, with the bulk of this figure being compensation. The overspend was authorised by the Department of Justice, which it funded through a virement.
On Tuesday, Lamola said the NPA had projected a shortfall of R121.5m for the 2019/20 financial year.
"We will further solicit the support of Parliament to increase this funding through the adjusted estimates of national expenditure in October this year," he added.
Out of the Department of Justice's budget of R15.6bn, R3.9bn go to the NPA.
The Office of the Public Protector, which perennially complains it is constrained by a lack of resources, receives only R31.4m. The SIU gets R363m.
Legal Aid South Africa gets R1.958bn, the Human Rights Commission R189.2m and R2.384bn is earmarked for the national revenue fund for magistrates' salaries.
Two weeks ago, Lamola announced to the portfolio committee the special directorate would receive R38m to start its work.
Asked about the directorate, Batohi said she had briefed Lamola about its administration.
"But with regards to the operations of the directorate - for example cases we are looking at, what the investigation strategies are - there have been no discussions at all with the minister at all because the independence of the office of the NPA, the NDPP, would require that these things remain firmly within the domain of the NPA.
"The Department of Justice has made available R38m, which in itself is not a lot of money, considering that, as many of you will know, these are complex investigations that require a lot of money. But these are for start-up costs at this stage."
Batohi said they had also made a bid to the criminal asset recovery account fund and were positive that it would be successful.
Asked why, if the government says it is serious about rooting out corruption, corruption-busting institutions remain underfunded, the director-general of the Department of Justice, Vusi Madonsela, said: "The fight against corruption is not the only thing that the government needs to deal with. It still has to provide services that are rendered by a range of other government departments.
"In fact, the cuts have been across all government departments. But there is no doubt in our minds that if we are able to make a case to demonstrate the value that the departments in the justice cluster can bring, we believe that we are able to argue better for resources to be diverted away from other areas, especially funds that have not been spent.
"It is not really a case of corruption-busting institutions being underfunded, it really is a case of all government departments and institutions not being able to get all that they need or desire, simply because the fiscal space cannot accommodate them to the fullest."
The head of the investigative directorate, Hermione Cronjé, recently mooted the matter of using private funds.
Asked about this, Lamola said the issue of private funding for the NPA was sensitive because it had to be independent in its operations and decisions.
"Any kind of funding that comes to the NPA should be isolated for any other kind of capture of the NPA. So we are in engagement with the National Treasury to see how we could ensure that whatever private funding is intended for the NPA, it is insulated from any form of perceived or real kind of compromise of its independence," he added.
"The reality is that the NPA is really financially constrained. It's really struggling, it needs the money.
"While we have, as the DG explained, constraints in all government departments, we now also have this mountain, and also societal and public expectations that the NPA needs to work and help us to fight the scourge of corruption.
"To be able to fight corruption, it needs funding. If the fiscus does not have it, private donor funding must help us. But, how do we ensure that the NPA is insulated?"
Read this report on News24Wire.com.
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