The Pretoria high court granted the Zondo commission its fifth extension to finalise its work on Wednesday 29 September, with its report on state capture now due at the end of December.
The order was handed down after Justice Minister Ronald Lamola withdrew a legal challenge to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s application for another three-month extension of the lifespan of the inquiry, filed a fortnight ago.
The minister had sought a ruling limiting the latest extension to six weeks, arguing that anything longer would be excessive and unconstitutional, and to cap any further funding for the commission at R15-million.
The argument he raised was that the commission was an organ of state and therefore constitutionally bound to conduct itself in a cost-effective manner.
Since the national treasury had stopped funding the ongoing work of the commission, any funding had to be found in the budget of the department of justice by reprioritising its allocations. At this stage, the department had not provided for further financial assistance to the commission, the ministry stressed.
The department in May allocated R75-million to the commission.
However, Lamola abandoned the application a day after it was filed.
According to the ministry, it was withdrawn after assurances were received that “the matters raised by the department of justice and correctional services will be attended to in due course”. It did not immediately give further details.
Zondo lodged an urgent application in June with the same court to be granted until the end of September to complete the commission’s public hearings and draft its report to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The public hearings concluded with the president’s final two days of oral evidence to the commission in August, and what remains is the writing of its report on the state capture scandal after hearing the testimony of more than 330 witnesses.
When he applied for the fourth extension, Zondo said he believed the report could be completed by the end of August, but he had asked for a three-month extension to be on the safe side.
However, in papers filed mid-month asking the court for more time, the deputy chief justice said there had been delays in completing the first drafts of the report, in part because a key staff member had taken ill.
In his now-abandoned application, Lamola noted that the deputy chief justice had not filed a proposal as to how he planned to finalise the report within the requested 90-day period. Nor did he give a cost estimate for the extension.
This was in part due to the sensitive nature of the work of the commission but in this instance, Lamola said an estimate of costs was “not an unreasonable request”.
The ministry submitted that in its view, a further R35-million would be needed.
The commission has been running for three years and has to date cost close to R1-billion, dwarfing the scope of any other judicial inquiry the country has seen.