Justice department in desperate need of renewal, Lamola tells parly

Ronald Lamola Minister of Justice and Correctional Services can be seen at GCIS during a press briefing , 16 December 2019, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

The department reported approximately R1.2 billion in irregular expenditure and underspent by R757 million.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola says the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is “in desperate need of renewal”.

He provided the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services with a “political overview” of the department on Friday.

This after the committee last month expressed its concern about the department’s declining performance, after the department briefed the committee on its fourth-quarter performance for 2019/20, and its first-quarter performance for 2020/21 last month.

The committee then resolved it would consider requesting the assistance of the Public Service Commission to address the department’s poor performance and systematic challenges to improve the situation.

Among the concerns raised by the committee, were that the department has a vacancy rate of 23.4% at senior management level. The committee said the department could not complain about proposed budget cuts and then continue to miss targets and underspend on its budget. The department reported approximately R1.2 billion in irregular expenditure and underspent by R757 million.

Lamola told the committee that he has heeded their call and there no longer is room for complacency at the department.

He said the department’s role is to make the criminal justice system accessible.

“It is critical to ensure that as much as possible, we have a criminal justice system which enhances the respect for the courts and obedience to the rule of law. These are not boxes to be ticked, but real-life problems,” Lamola said.

“As the ministry, our assessment is that the administration needs to be re-engineered significantly to meet the expectations of South Africans and we are currently spearheading this process.”

He said he hopes the soon-to-be appointed director-general of Department of Justice and Constitutional Development will add impetus to the department’s renewal.

He said deputy directors-general for the master’s office and corporate services had been appointed.

“In our 15 000-strong workforce, there are thousands of people who are diligent, are at the forefront of making our justice system more accessible.

“Honourable members, having accessed the department’s performance, I’ve called on the senior management in the department to conduct a root cause analysis of the problems we see in the department. This is also to ensure we develop a rescue plan as recommended by this August [sic] committee,” Lamola said.

He said this rescue plan will address the concerns raised by the committee, the Auditor-General, and their internal audit committee.

“It is absolutely critical that senior management takes accountability and leads from the front in addressing the challenges.”

He said the following problems have been identified in the root cause analysis:

  • High-level leadership instability, lack of capacity;
  • Lack of proper performance management;
  • Lack of decisive decision making;
  • No defined organisation culture leading to a culture of non-performance; and
  • Lack of ethical tools.

He said the following actions need to be taken before the end of the financial year:

  • Realign the macro-structure;
  • Implement corrective actions and consequence management; and
  • Assessment of skillset of middle and senior management.

The committee welcomed Lamola’s commitment to turn the department around, but still raise several concerns.

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