/ 21 December 2017

M&G Cabinet Report Cards 2017: Michael Masutha

Justice Minister Mike Masutha. David Harrison, M&G
Justice Minister Mike Masutha. David Harrison, M&G

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services

2016 Grade:D

2017 Grade: D

No news is good news in this year of state capture and pre-elective congress politicking, and Justice Minister Michael Masutha has managed to keep his head down and stay out of the news.

He has deftly dodged the largest bullet — the spectacular failure by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to do anything much about allegations that South Africa is being run from Saxonwold and not the Union Buildings. This is because prosecutorial decision-making is insulated from his influence by the Constitution and because the top five prosecutors in the country are appointed directly by the president.

But still, in terms of the Constitution, Masutha has “final responsibility” over the NPA. Although there has been much debate about what final responsibility entails, at the very least, the NPA has to report back on its doings to the minister. He can demand to know what is going on or why so little has been done. Has he made such a demand? Questions to his office went unanswered.

When it comes to the running of the country’s courts and prisons — a huge combined portfolio — the minister’s record is better but nowhere near spectacular. The rationalisation of the magistrates’ courts, a big project, is on track, as are the special courts and facilities for sexual offences.

Legal Aid SA is running well and the controversial Traditional Courts Bill, after years of wrangling, has also finally been tabled in Parliament.

For the first time since 1994, the department of correctional services achieved an unqualified audit, a notable achievement.

But the justice and constitutional development department got a qualified audit. And most of the specific promises Masutha made in his 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 justice budget vote speeches have not been fulfilled. There has been a lot of talk about the Integrated Criminal Justice Strategy but nothing concrete has happened, and the promised roll-out of court-annexed mediation services to 30 courts has not gone beyond the pilot project. The Mpumalanga High Court building, two years behind schedule, has yet to be finished and the three new magistrates’ courts promised in Dimbaza, Mamelodi and Port Shepstone are not yet complete.

Living conditions in our prisons remain horrific and human rights abuses continue. Masutha himself has admitted to being taken to court on average 10 times a month for failures in dealing with parole applications for people serving life imprisonment.

He admits the department is top-heavy and there is a worrying number of vacancies in top management posts.

Masutha would have received a C for the justice portfolio but his failure to call the NPA to account in a year like this brings him down a grade. You can do better, minister.


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