Minister Masutha will only act out of political expediency

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The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the DA’s Shadow Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Adv Werner Horn MP, during the Budget Vote on Justice and Constitutional Development.

Honourable Chairperson,

Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman, more than two hundred years ago first used the now often quoted phrase that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men – and obviously good women – to do nothing”.

We believe, however, as has already been illustrated by the Honourable Breytenbach, that the last three years have shown convincingly that evil can also triumph if one only choose to do what is expedient and for the rest to try and do as little as possible.

Chair, despite all of the protestations of ANC colleagues, there is no denying that bar Legal Aid South Africa, the performance of the department and all other institutions provided for in vote 21 is deeply suspect.

Hopefully the South African Human Rights Commission will be re-invigorated by the wholesale change in personnel it underwent recently, but its failure to act on timely warnings about the plight of those killed in what is now known as the Esidimeni tragedy will remain an ugly scar on its reputation.

Before returning to the failures of the ministry allow me at this point, Chair, to briefly turn to another Chapter 9 institution and confirm that our fear remains that we will be proven correct in our assessment that the standards set by Advocate Madonsela in respect of an unwavering commitment to our constitution and effective handling of complaints of maladministration and corruption, specifically in respect of the so-called high profile cases, will not be maintained in the next six years. Although in all fairness no evidence is yet available to assess this, as no findings in respect of high profile cases has been released since the incumbent took office seven months ago.

Chair, but let’s return to the failures of the Minister and his deputy.

Anyone not yet convinced about the inability of this duo to ensure the proper administration of justice, should consider this:

Apart from the occasional energy displayed when jumping to the defence of the President, the last three years can be described not only by the word “failure” but also the word “delay”.

From the delay in the tabling of legal aid regulations, to the delay, or maybe it should be “the failure” to table the regulations enabling the implementation of the Maintenance Amendment Act” passed nearly two years ago with a big hoo-ha that government was to get tough on maintenance defaulters and blacklist them;

To the delay in processing of the Cyber Security Bill before tabling, while the number of convictions for cybercrimes are sliding backwards in the face of a massive worldwide increase in cybercrimes;

To an inordinate delay in the appointment of the solicitor-general, which Minister you promised would happen “very soon” in your 2015 budget speech, and which if kept could surely have eased some of the ills still faced by the state legal services despite money being thrown at this problem as if the minister himself is able to print it;

To a delay and resultant snowballing of costs in every build project this department is undertaking;

All of which, Chairperson, once again, underscores the assessment that unless it is politically expedient for this Minister and his deputy to act with focus and speed, nothing more than a snail’s pace can be expected of them.

Yet, and ironically, we have again today heard a lot about transformation of a radical kind that is going to happen in respect of the legal system.

This is ironic because, Honourable Members, of the way the study which should have been the launch pad of this radical transformation into the socio-economic impact of the decisions of our highest courts has been dealt with by this ministry.

This impact assessment, first announced in 2012, has been with the Minister since last year. But, when asked for an explanation on why this report has not been tabled yet, all sorts of vagaries are proffered. From saying that the report is not final yet to an answer that cabinet is still processing it, it is clear there is no urgency to table it.

Chair, radical transformation will not be launched from this pad as it in all likelihood has found that our courts have played a positive and enabling, dare we say “radical” role, in respect of the realisation of socio-economic rights and is not to blame for the failures of government to deliver.

What would have been funny if not so sad is that the Annual Performance Plan (APP) of the Department attempted to bury this report under the target that, in response to it, a policy on the future court administration model of our High Courts must be finalised, the latter of course being another of those issues the Minister is approaching with his special mixture of obfuscation and tardiness.

Chair, after three years the proverbial jury is out and it is clear: this Department and its entities are led nowhere very slowly.

5 YEARS LATER, WE'RE STILL WAITING FOR JUSTICE

The Farlam Commission Report was released over 2 years ago, but nothing has been done since then to provide closure on the greatest tragedy of our young democracy.