South Africa: Justice and Correctional Services Committee concerned about ‘Human Factor’ aiding escapees

The National Prosecuting Authority and the Public Protector have already requested assistance from the department after it experienced budget shortfalls 

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, April 19, 2018,-/African Media Agency (AMA)/- The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services has noted with grave concern comments by the executive today that the “human factor” aided the recent spate of escapes from correctional facilities.

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services today briefed the committee on its 2018/19 annual performance plan. The committee heard that the initial investigation indicated that the escapes from Pollsmoor, in Cape Town, and Johannesburg correctional facilities could not have happened without assistance.

The committee issued a media statement last week in which it indicated that the minister and his deputies must brief Members of Parliament on the escapes and plans to address the problem. Committee Chairperson Dr Mathole Motshekga then said such escapes cannot be allowed to continue and that the committee holds the minister and his deputies accountable. Dr Motshekga urged that all avenues should be followed to ensure civil servants found guilty of aiding escapes are dealt with accordingly. “They are putting the lives of law-abiding South Africans in danger.”

Deputy Minister Mr Thabang Makwetla said it seemed that the escapes were not a result of resource shortages, but rather human factors. This was re-iterated by Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Adv Michael Masutha, who blamed ill-discipline for the escapes. “That is why disciplinary action has been taken.” Overcrowding also played a role. Minister Masutha says the country’s jails accommodate 37% more inmates on average than they are designed to house.

Minister Masutha also said he had full confidence in the newly appointed Commissioner of Correctional Services, Mr Arthur Fraser. “I am aware of the negative publicity around him. I am looking at it positively. I have a man with vast experience who I believe can bring to bear such valuable experience to assist us at corrections to address some of the challenges. I am confident in him playing a positive role in the department going forward.”

Responding to questions from the committee on the numerous court actions instituted on behalf of former president Mr Jacob Zuma, Minister Masutha said these decisions are the prerogative of the state attorneys. “I do not have the powers to review decisions by the state attorney to litigate on behalf of the state.” Dr Motshekga responded by stating that the state attorney’s office is subject to oversight by Minister Masutha’s office.

The committee further heard that should the department experience any further budget cuts, this will have serious implications for its programmes. The National Prosecuting Authority and the Public Protector have already requested assistance from the department after it experienced budget shortfalls. This was after the National Treasury referred the entities back to the department for assistance.

Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.

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