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Source: South Africa News Agency

The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services has indicated that it is “cautiously happy” about progress reported on by the Office of the Public Protector for meeting – and in some cases exceeding its targets for the 2019/20 financial year.

The committee heard on Thursday that the office of the Public Protector investigated 1 602 COVID-19 related complaints received since the beginning of lockdown, with the bulk of the matters relating to the R350 special social relief of distress grants.

The rest of the matters were related to personal protective equipment (PPEs) procurement irregularities which have financial implications of an estimated R4 billion for the public purse.

The committee also heard that the office has also embarked on its own investigation into the state of the country’s healthcare system and basic education. The investigation was prompted by a public outcry and media reports as a result of the pandemic.

The organisation visited hospitals and schools in various provinces to establish, among others, how they are coping with the devastation brought about by COVID-19 and general state of the facilities in respect of whether they are able to render services effectively and efficiently to the public.

“This is extremely encouraging. It shows the organisation is moving speedily forward towards good health.

“However, we expect a 100% reaching of targets from Chapter 9 institutions and not 79% as in your case. The progress you have however made cannot go unnoticed,” Committee Chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe said.

Magwanishe said the committee will reserve its final judgement until the Auditor-General verifies the performance reported on Thursday.

Proposed budget cuts

Magwanishe also raised the committee’s concerns regarding the proposed budget cuts facing the office of the Public Protector’s office.

The committee heard that budget cuts expected by the organisation amount to R209.4 million between 2020/21 and 2023/24.

The budget cut for 2020/21 have been confirmed, while budget cuts from 2021/22 onwards are still to be confirmed by the National Treasury.

It further emerged that the office needs more than R52 million over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) to fill positions which became vacant since the 2017-18 financial year.

The Public Protector’s office original cost of employment (CoE) budget amounted to R266 million, R280.6 million and R294.8 million in 2020/21, 2021/22 and 2022/23 respectively.

The National Treasury proposed budget reductions on CoE that amount to R160.6 million between 2020/21 and 2022/23.

No provision for cost of living adjustments, except for medical aid increases, housing allowances and notch progressions.

The committee heard that if budget reductions are implemented, the office will significantly overspend on CoE.

“We have taken a principled decision in this committee that we do not support budget cuts, especially for Chapter 9 institutions. It is worrying that you have to close offices, which means these cuts are crippling your office,” Magwanishe said. –

MIL OSI Africa