NEWS & ANALYSIS

Why the SIU is investigating the Office of the State Attorney - Mike Masutha

Minister says concerns raised regarding the functioning of the state litigation portfolio

Justice Minister further elaborates on the reason for the President’s proclamation authorising Special Investigating Unit’s probe into the affairs of the Office of the State Attorney

In the light of extensive media and general public interest shown in the recent issuing of a proclamation by President Cyril Ramaphosa authorising the SIU to investigate allegations levelled against the Office of the State Attorney by various parties, I have decided this morning to conduct this media briefing together with two of my colleagues, Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of Health and General Bheki Cele, the Minister of Police to further clarify the reasons for this investigation.

As the Cabinet member responsible for the administration of justice, I have visited several public and private entities within the Justice portfolio – including meeting with relevant professional bodies - to appraise myself of various matters affecting the administration of justice in South Africa. In the course of wide-ranging conversations I held with these entities, it became apparent that a number of challenges exist that inhibit the effective administration of justice.

These include concerns raised at various fora regarding the functioning of the state litigation portfolio under the control of the office of the State Attorney. As you may well be aware, the state litigates primarily through this institution. Concerns were raised regarding alleged malpractices, lack of professionalism, and suspicion of abuse of office towards unlawful ends, amongst others.

In addition, several departments and colleagues on numerous occasions expressed disappointment in the manner in which some officials of the State Attorney’s Office handled their matters resulting in unnecessary loss whether financial or otherwise.

Furthermore, complaints were raised regarding the commitment of the State Attorney towards advancing gender and racial transformation of the legal profession in the manner in which it issued state legal work, contrary to the claim in its reports that it had been exceeding its targets in this regard. 

Some colleagues, including the Ministers of Health and Police, who I have invited to be part of this briefing today, have complained about the way in which their matters have been handled. This includes non-timeous filing of court papers in litigation matters, undue and particularly exorbitant unauthorised out of court settlements even in instances where such matters could have been defended on behalf of the state, and apparent collusion between certain officials within the State Attorney’s Office, private legal practitioners and real or fictitious litigants to defraud and conduct other acts of irregular and corrupt activities against the State. This initiative is calculated to bring a halt to these alleged practices in the provision of State legal services particularly in conducting litigation for and against the State.

The allegations to be investigated as articulated in the proclamation include:

1. serious maladministration in connection with the affairs of the Office of the State Attorney;

2.  improper or unlawful conduct by some employees or officials of the Office of the State Attorney;

3. unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public funds or property;

4. unlawful, irregular or unapproved acquisitive act, transaction, measure or practice having a bearing upon State property;

5. intentional or negligent loss of public money or damage to public property;

6. contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004, and the;

7. unlawful or improper conduct which has caused or may cause serious harm to the interests of the public.

The proclamation was gazetted last month. The investigation will help the Department of Justice to lay to rest concerns that have been raised by members of the public, the legal fraternity and other government departments regarding the functioning and conduct of some officials within the Office of the State Attorney.

Where appropriate and in addition to the investigation by the SIU, disciplinary action as well as criminal investigation will be initiated against alleged perpetrators to ensure that firm action is taken to uproot corrupt activities.

We therefore encourage anyone who can assist by providing useful information to avail themselves to the SIU to assist in the investigation.

In addition to these interventions, I have, last year initiated, under the leadership of the current CEO of Legal Aid South Africa as project manager, a review of the policy and legislative framework governing the State Legal Services particularly the role of the office of the State Attorney and other legal services in government.

This is intended to develop a new comprehensive and more effective system for the provision of State legal services at all three spheres of government so as to enhance its efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism. This in part is in response to the shortcoming I have already identified earlier as well as findings and recommendations of the report of the Public Service Commission and by other stakeholders regarding the functionality and performance of the Office of the State Attorney.

Statement issued by Mukoni Ratshitanga, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, 14 August 2018