Thuli Madonsela needs more staff

2014-07-06 15:00

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The caseload in the Office of the Public Protector keeps rising – but the number of investigators remains unchanged.

Thuli Madonsela says she’s hoping to meet National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete to restate her office’s need for more funding and resources after she spoke to Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice this week.

Madonsela, who received a visit from Justice Minister Michael Masutha at her office in Pretoria this week, is confident government will soon heed her pleas for a bigger budget. Previous appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

Madonsela is also encouraged by the fact that only four of the 32?000 investigations that were completed last year were not acted on, a sign departments were taking her investigations seriously.

But there are other worrying numbers.

The 2013/14 financial year saw a huge jump in cases, to 41?286, including investigations carried over from the previous year. Her office managed to finalise 32?078 cases, a majority of which were “bread and butter issues”, but had to defer investigations on nearly 10?000 to this financial year.

Madonsela – who has previously spoken to Parliament, the Treasury and the minister of justice about the need for more resources – has invited members of Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice to see how an injection of additional capacity would go a long way to improving the Public Protector’s effectiveness and ensure accountability in the government.

“We want them to see first-hand what realities the office faces in terms of lack of resources to fulfil the mandate and deal with the ever-increasing caseload,” said Madonsela.

While her numerous appeals for help from the Office on Institutions Supporting Democracy in Parliament and requests to meet the previous parliamentary Speaker, Max Sisulu, did not materialise last year, she is confident the new administration will heed her calls.

Madonsela had asked to increase her annual budget by R117?million, to R300?million, for this financial year, but only received R199?million, an increase of just R16?million from her 2012/13 budget of R183?million.

Madonsela has argued for the past two years that her office’s budget remains disproportionate to its mandate. She intends to fill new posts for investigators and qualified staff. She says she was emboldened by the National Development Plan’s recommendation that government provide additional capacity for chapter 9 institutions.

Her investigators are taking on more complex complaints, she says. In Gauteng alone, 14 investigators each handle an average of 540 cases, almost double the national average of 297 cases per investigator.

But a shortage of money is not her only problem. Although the understanding of her role and mandate by departments has improved, there is a new stumbling block: a slow response to her findings.

“It is a recent concern that I hope to address through active engagement with organs of state. Most government officials understand our mandate and most comply,” says Madonsela, who has commended some politicians for ensuring their departments acted as ordered by her office.

“I have raised concerns with Parliament and premiers where there have been concerns. But some premiers, for example, Mr David Mabuza in Mpumalanga, have taken action to ensure compliance.”

In the four cases where there hasn’t been any action since last year, Madonsela said those who refused to act simply rejected her findings and were now in court applying for her findings to be reviewed.

She is preparing for two court battles involving public officials who have rejected her findings, including Independent Electoral Commission chairperson Pansy Tlakula, who Madonsela found to have “irregularly” awarded a R320?million lease contract to a business partner, and Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, who she found guilty of maladministration as well as improper and unethical conduct in her previous post as minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries when she awarded an R800?million tender to the Sekunjalo Marine Services Consortium.

Such litigation was “unnecessary” because the legal costs would eat away at her office’s limited resources spent on defending her recommendations in court.

“We are increasingly spending a fortune on litigation, and our view is a lot of that litigation is not necessary because the Constitution provides for cooperative governance,” said Madonsela.

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