Justice Budget Vote - Remarks By Dr Oriani-Ambrosini MP

 

National Assembly: Cape Town, 7th June 2011 

Mr Speaker:

 

Preliminarily I wish to extend a word of appreciation for the wise, cordial and gentlemen like leadership provided to our committee by the Honourable Landers who has happily replaced the Honourable Romathloli. It is a pleasure to be a member of a committee which works constructively in the greater good of the country.

 

The core business for the Department of Justice should be that of ensuring that not only justice is made but also that justice is affordable, accessible and effective. Unfortunately today justice is a privilege for the rich. The cost of private defence in criminal matters exceeds the budget of most families who do not qualify for state representation. The costs of litigating in civil administrative matters are prohibited for the overwhelming majority of individuals and companies alike. Our leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi has made concrete proposals to address these issues which were first tabled with then Minister Maduna and then with the Deputy Minister Suthri. The implementation of these proposals would require interaction between the Department and the Rules Board to which section 173 of the constitution, wisely or unwisely, leaves the prerogative of shaping our judicial processes.

 

Our judicial process is a dinosaur of a bygone era and it has unfortunately remained insulated from the wave of reforms and progress which has transformed South Africa in the past two decades. Time does not allow me to elaborate on the matter save for urging all Members to read the article I have published in the June edition of De Rebus which Members receive in their pigeon holes every month. In that article I pointed to tried and tested modalities which can overnight make justice accessible, affordable and efficient at no cost to the state. There is no reason to continue to delay consideration and implementation of such proposals.

 

The role of the Department is also that of promoting constitutional development which should mean strengthening rather than weakening the constitutional order. We are concerned how the parliamentary process provided for in section 176(1) of the constitution has been bypassed in the extension of the terminal office of the Chief Justice. The constitution is clear in requiring that such extension be made by an act of Parliament not by the President purporting to act in terms of Parliament. This is an extension of a term of office is one of those "favours" which may undermine the independence of a Constitutional Court justice who should neither receive nor hope to receive any such favour from government as the extension of his terms of office.

 

Corruption has become a cancer which is spreading throughout government beyond what the NPA and the SIU can control, investigate, redress, deter and punish. If the Republic is to survive this cancer needs to be eradicated. Corruption is creating, fuelling and nourishing a parallel system of power in an underworld of secret relations forged through profitable contracts, cartels and profit sharing. We must be realistic about where we are. The only rational way to deal with this is to draw a line and start anew. We must write down the past 16 years of corruption as a terrible by-product of the revolution which took place. In an article published today in Business Day I have called for a qualified amnesty for corruption. It is not an easy thing to do, it is not an easy thing for any politician to call for, but it is the only rational approach. Time does not allow me to fully motivate this proposal which I urge you to read in all its details in the article published in Business Day.

 

A revolution took place in South Africa two decades ago. Fortunately, it was a benign and bloodless revolution.

 

From a historical viewpoint some argue that one could partially ascribe the rampant corruption, mal-administration and larceny of State resources of the past 17 years to the retribution imposed by the victorious revolutionary forces not only on those whom they defeated but on everything in their wake: somehow the modern equivalent of the ancient warfare's raping and pillaging of an entire town.

 

This may not be true, but it does offer a suitable albeit unconvincing excuse to commit corruption. Hundreds of previously disadvantaged South Africans have become billionaires while the gap between rich and poor persists as before.

 

How does one stop corruption? We cannot even dream of jailing the entire ruling elite: beside it being unrealistic, the damage to the Republic would be irreparable. The eradication of corruption has already been declared a national priority by a President who escaped about 500 charges for corruption and racketeering. Something more needs to be done to change entrenched corruptive practices and mindsets. We must draw a line, commence anew the right way, and declare a new beginning.

 

A qualified amnesty seems the only option which fits all aspects of our situation.

 

However, culprits cannot go scot free. Applicants for amnesty are normally required to confess to the relevant facts and circumstances for which they are seeking amnesty. They should also be required to make full reparation so that all profits of corruption are returned to the State. This would help replenishing State's finances without new taxes.

 

Yet, we may need to go one step further. For it is unlikely that, under normal amnesty procedures, guilty parties will come forward, as they are too solidly entrenched behind the immunity walls of a corruptive world to fear prosecution. They know that the police cannot cope and corruption has infiltrated its ranks. We may need new and dynamic carrot-and-stick ways to motivate criminals to come forward.

 

However structured, an amnesty would enable the State to re-group and reorganize its actions to fight corruption effectively at all levels. From this new beginning every single tender should be properly scrutinised. As it now stands, prosecutorial and investigative resources are too engaged to deal with past corruption to provide an effective control on present and future corruption. With a new beginning, both NPA and SAPS should be able to prevent and prosecute corruption effectively.

 

It is not easy to admit that something went terribly wrong. It is not easy to condone those who took advantage of it. It is much simpler to stick one's head in the sands. An amnesty offers better hope of saving the Republic from this cancer. Otherwise, we are fighting a battle which is lost except in the empty rhetoric of hypocritical politicians.

 

Contact: Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini MP, 082 556 0240.