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Public Protector's budget cuts will impact quality and speed of investigations

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Public Protector's budget cuts will impact quality and speed of investigations

Photo by Reuters
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane

7th May 2021

By: News24Wire

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The Office of the Public Protector, one of the entities mandated with what Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane calls the "mammoth task of rooting out corruption", is facing another budget cut.

The budget cut will impact the quality and speed at which the entity resolves investigations.

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For the 2020/21 financial year, R16.1-million was cut from the office's budget - and, in the 2021/22 financial year, it was reduced by R28.7-million.

Originally, R360.613-million was budgeted for 2021-2022. It will only get R331.884-million.

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The year after that, it will receive R340.918-million, down R37-million from the earlier budget - and the year after that, R345.190-million, down R19-million from the original budget.

"We expect more cuts in the future," Mkhwebane warned the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on Thursday.

The meeting started minutes after the National Assembly's question session with President Cyril Ramaphosa concluded.

"This administration has taken decisive steps to confront state capture and corruption," Ramaphosa said.

The Public Protector's office presented its strategic and operational focus areas for 2021-2022 to the committee.

Mkhwebane said there were two elephants in the room impacting on this – the Covid-19 pandemic and "the reality that our budget allocation continues on a downward trend since the previous year".

"Both challenges threatened to derail our rollout of the Public Protector Vision 2023, and we had to work around them in order to remain on course."

She said the budget cuts had primarily impacted their funds for compensating employees.

"The nature of the impact is such that our already inadequate capacity will be rendered further insufficient. This will, in turn, affect the quality of our output and the speed at which we resolve complaints," Mkhwebane said.

"Given the governance issues that the country faces, coupled with the fact that the PPSA is among a few institutions that are expressly mentioned in Chapter 14 of the National Development Plan (NDP), as having been entrusted with the mammoth task of rooting out corruption and related maladies across the public administration, this is an undesirable situation."

She noted that the NDP decrees that such institutions should be appropriately funded and capacitated.

"Our mandate is now more crucial than ever before. We have to expand our resources to focus on mending the administrative gaps that are a result of maladministration and more often lead to corruption. We are, therefore, an integral part of the fight against corruption."

She said they are aware of government's financial challenges and, subsequently, they had to find innovative ways of ensuring that they adjust to this environment.

"Accordingly, in respect of investigations, we have revised our performance targets. For instance, in 2019/2020, we sought to produce 56 investigation reports. Now we are aiming for 50.

"Previously, we aimed to finalise 100% of our early resolution, administrative justice and service delivery, and good governance and integrity investigations within the set turnaround times. Now the target is 80%.

"It is our hope that this approach will help us circumvent the grim realities of declining budgets and the effects of Covid-19, so that we maintain the effective implementation of our constitutional mandate."

Committee members were concerned about vacancies in the office.

Public Protector CEO Thandi Sibanyoni said they were unable to fill vacant posts because of the budget cuts.

Sibanyoni said they have a meeting with Treasury in the coming week, where they will discuss a new revenue model for the office or the prospect of getting additional funding.

Committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe said, in principle, the committee was opposed to budget cuts for Chapter 9 institutions.

"Our position is becoming more difficult due to the economic situation becoming more dire," he said, before encouraging the office to "think deeper" about innovative ways to cut costs.

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