/ 20 December 2022

Ronald Lamola (Grade C)

Ed 443597
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola. (Brenton Geach/Gallo Images and Phill Magakoe/ Gallo Images)

Justice and Correctional Services

Key Goals

  1. Resolve problem in master’s office: Progress
  2. Reduce state litigation bill: Progress
  3. Bolster National Prosecuting Authority: Progress
  4. Improve functioning of courts: Fail

It is a comfort that Ronald Lamola is surrounded by capable officials because his political ambitions are as consuming as the demands of his day job. It’s been a busy time on both fronts.

The justice department is heading for a budget windfall of billions in February meant to ensure that state capture cases become commonplace and convictions follow at last. The early announcement of the allocation was both a message of political intent from the Ramaphosa administration, and a vote of confidence in a department that has progressed from the halfway to the three-quarter mark on meeting targets. 

But its struggle to resolve long-standing logistical problems and end a four-year run of qualified audits is yet to bear fruit.

Almost three years after fraud forced the closure of all 15 master’s offices, its hopes to finalise the overhaul of the system with extensive digitisation within the year will depend on availability of funds. Reforms around the state attorney’s office and plans to reduce a state litigation bill that totalled R7 billion in five years are still tentative. It is not fair to raise treasury rules as a reason for briefing poor lawyers when the ministry litigates when it should desist. 

It is fair to blame public works for maintenance backlogs at courts, but when a roof collapses it’s a reminder that you bear final responsibility for fixing the hazards magistrates and prosecutors have endured for too long. The minister should take responsibility too for the unintended consequences inherent in the bill on trespassing, rather than trying to spin what speaks of poor drafting.

Lamola mostly displays sound reflexes, though his unscripted interventions at the Judicial Service Commission owe more to politics than mature constitutionalism, as did his legally obtuse decisions in the Walus and Chang cases.

There was political courage though in refusing to withdraw his candidacy for the deputy presidency, even if it could cost him his place in cabinet.

Let’s hope it does not and he gets to keep the day job because he gets better as time passes and we need every ethical minister we can get.


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