Crackdown on corruption at State Attorney

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Government has initiated a countrywide investigation into the corruption allegations levelled against the Office of the State Attorney, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Michael Masutha announced on Tuesday.  

Led by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the investigations follow a presidential proclamation authorising the SIU to investigate the irregularities at the institution which is tasked with providing legal services to national and provincial departments.

This follows concerns raised against the institution of alleged malpractices, lack of professionalism, and suspicion of abuse of office towards unlawful ends, among others.

Briefing the media on the proclamation, Masutha said the scams which have been uncovered include the non-timeous filing of court papers in litigation matters, undue and particularly exorbitant unauthorised out of court settlements even in instances where such matters could have been defended on behalf of the state.

There are also allegations of apparent collusion between certain officials within the State Attorney’s Office, private legal practitioners and real or fictitious litigants to defraud and conduct other acts of irregular and corrupt activities against the State.

This corruption which is estimated to have costed the state over R80 billion is calculated to bring a halt to these alleged practices in the provision of State legal services, particularly in conducting litigation for and against the State, Masutha said.

“The investigation will help the Department of Justice to lay to rest concerns that have been raised by members of the public, the legal fraternity and other government departments regarding the functioning and conduct of some officials within the Office of the State Attorney,” said Masutha, who was joined by Minister of Police Bheki Cele, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and the SIU head, Advocate Andy Mothibi.

According to the proclamation signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month, the allegations to be investigated as articulated in the proclamation include serious maladministration in connection with the affairs of the Office of the State Attorney and improper or unlawful conduct by some employees or officials.

They will also investigate the unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public funds or property; unlawful, irregular or unapproved acquisitive act, transaction, measure or practice having a bearing upon state property and intentional or negligent loss of public money or damage to public property.

In addition to these, the SIU will investigate whether there was a contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004, and the unlawful or improper conduct which has caused or may cause serious harm to the interests of the public.

Where appropriate and in addition to the investigation by the SIU, disciplinary action as well as the criminal investigation will be initiated against alleged perpetrators to ensure that firm action is taken to uproot corrupt activities.

“We, therefore, encourage anyone who can assist by providing useful information to avail themselves to the SIU to assist in the investigation,” Masutha added.

Mothibi anticipated that this investigation will cover all the state attorney offices across the country.

“This investigation is quite complex. We are giving the investigation teams no less than 12 months. But in the event where more cases emerge - we will not turn a blind eye. We will finalise the number of people who will make up the team in the next week or two,” Mothibi said.

Department of Health alleged scams

As this stands, the Department of Health and the Police are the most affected by the alleged scams and corruption.

Motsoaledi said corruption was so widespread that since 2013, his department alone had paid out R60 billion in malpractice claims – which some could turn out to be untrue.

Quoting medico claims figures from the last financial year alone, Motsoaledi said his department has close to R57 billion claims by people suing the department.

But some of these cases he says have raised eyebrows. This includes R70 million for a supposedly botched circumcision.

Upon investigation, Motsoaledi said it turned out that the patient had never even been circumcised at all and the hospital had, in fact, saved him from illness.

Another R25 million claim patient supposedly suffering from cerebral palsy also turned out to be untrue.

“I am aggrieved and want people arrested. We must investigate the whole network. Some doctors must also be arrested because they collude with private law firms in defrauding the state. I know there are private lawyers in the Eastern Cape where most fraudulent cases occurred….they need to be arrested. This is taking too long.”

State to recover money lost

Cele assured that the police remain committed that anti-corruption efforts exposed and prosecuted all those who are involved in corrupt activities. He indicated that he has met with the Hawks this morning to pave a way forward for civil and criminal claims to be lodged on behalf of the state to recover the money lost.

“We have to work hard to ensure that we arrest these perpetrators. I met with the head of the Hawks to discuss these matters. While the SIU deals with its matter there are police matters that we will have to take over. For example, there might be criminal charges and elements going forward and the Hawks are the relevant body to take the matter forward,” said Cele.  

Measures to ensure that this thread doesn’t continue at the state attorney, Masutha said a review of the policy and legislative framework governing the state legal services particularly the role of the Office of the State Attorney and other legal services in government is underway.  

This is intended to develop a new comprehensive and more effective system for the provision of state legal services at all three spheres of government so as to enhance its efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism. –