Cross-party concern about budget cuts for justice department

2018-05-09 22:33
Minister Michael Masutha. (Lisa Hnatowicz/Foto24)

Minister Michael Masutha. (Lisa Hnatowicz/Foto24) (Lisa Hnatowicz/Foto24)

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MPs on both sides of the House expressed concern about budget cuts for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development when it was debated on Wednesday.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha, however, didn't express an opinion on the cuts and only referred to it once during his speech.

"Since the dawn of democracy and despite the recent budgetary cuts occasioned by austerity measures, we continue to build, on average, two new courts per annum in order to address the huge infrastructure backlog, especially in previously black townships and rural villages," Masutha said.

ANC MP Mathole Motshekga, who chairs the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, raised several of the committee's concerns, saying it was worried about cuts at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Legal Aid.

He said reductions in staff in the legal system would slow it down further.

DA MP Werner Horn said Motshekga showed a "possible case of a regenerated spine" for not using his speech to protect the ministry, but rather raised the issues of concern.

ANC MP Moloko Maila said he was proud of Legal Aid and described it as a high-performing organisation.

"This has been achieved despite budget cuts," he said.

He said the ANC believed a further cut would make it impossible for Legal Aid to do their work.

"Then why are you voting for the budget?" quipped DA deputy chief whip Mike Waters.

In his speech, Masutha said: "An important part of access to justice is the provision of legal aid to those who cannot afford the cost of litigation. To this end, Legal Aid South Africa remains an important provider of legal aid and advice.

"As of the third quarter of the 2017/18 financial year, Legal Aid South Africa took on a total of 307 428 new matters, of which 266 583 were criminal [matters] and 40 845 civil matters. The organisation rendered legal advice to 226 359 clients, via its call centre, local and satellite offices. These successes were recorded notwithstanding a budget deficit of R45.3, which is projected to rise to R92.8m during this financial year."

ACDP MP Steven Swart also lauded Legal Aid and expressed his concern about what a budget cut would do to the organisation. He thanked the committee for accepting his proposal to refer the budget to Parliament's appropriations committee, where it might be changed.

Several opposition MPs also criticised the NPA, particularly its head Shaun Abrahams, with most of the complaints relating to selective prosecutions.

Abrahams was in attendance, sitting next to ANC NEC member and former minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

About halfway through the debate, Joemat-Pettersson left after shaking Abrahams' hand. A few minutes later he also left.

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