Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola said on Wednesday the public should rest assured that the Zondo commission will find resources to complete its work, despite his department’s — and the government’s — financial constraints.
“We are doing everything in our powers to ensure that the commission finalises its mandate, because it has now spent money in the region of about R800-million,” Lamola said.
He said his department is engaging with the commission’s secretary, the treasury and the director general of the department of justice to try to find the money for the commission.
He said these financial challenges arose because it was not anticipated that the commission would handle matters of this magnitude and complexity.
“But we are now here, and we have to respond to the challenges that the commission is confronting,” he said.
Lamola was answering questions on Wednesday in a hybrid sitting of parliament.
The funding of the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture has been thrust in the spotlight after the Pretoria high court granted it a three-month extension.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said he is asking for more time because Covid-19 and the lockdowns imposed since last March had disrupted the commission’s plans to complete hearing oral evidence in December and for the remaining three months to be dedicated to writing the report.
But last week, in a media briefing after the budget, Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni said he does not think he will give the commission money.
“I don’t think I am going to sign off on another tranche of cash to the commission … Maybe the department of justice,” the finance minister said.
Treasury director general Dondo Mogajane suggested a reprioritisation of funds within the cash-strapped department to fund the commission.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Mbuyiseni Ndlozi asked when those involved in the 2017 accounting fraud by the JSE-listed retail company Steinhoff would be arrested. He then accused the department of taking time because some of the people accused are white.
In 2019, an investigation carried out by PwC found Steinhoff had recorded fictitious or irregular transactions totalling $7.4-billion over the period of the 2009 to 2017 financial years.
Lamola said that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is dealing with the matter without any “fear, prejudice or favour”, adding that it’s conducting its investigations without looking at the skin colour of the accused.
The justice minister said these kinds of investigations take time. “We must not come here and lie and say these kinds of investigations can be done in a day”.
He added that even the investigation of the VBS case took years to be concluded.
“There is no one that is protecting white criminals. The NPA [and] the Hawks, are working together to ensure that the investigation is done thoroughly,” he said.
Lamola emphasised that by the time the department takes a decision, it will be informed by the facts and the law. He said even though its purse is thin, the department is using the money it has to continue doing its work.
Lamola said the department is building four commercial crime courts in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the North West and the Northern Cape. He said these courts will help to deal with backlogs and fast-track the court roll. Delays to the court roll have been exacerbated by Covid-19.