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Free State NPA walks budget tightrope coupled with critical staff shortfall

Free State NPA walks budget tightrope coupled with critical staff shortfall
The NPA previously announced it had suspended the intake of aspirant prosecutors for 2024 as a result of government-wide budget constraints.(Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Free State Director of Public Prosecutions, Navilla Somaru says ‘shortage of personnel continues to plague’ her division. 

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the Free State is pressing ahead to get more staff on board, to address a shortage of 39 personnel, said Director of Public Prosecutions in the province, Advocate Navilla Somaru on Tuesday. 

“While prosecutors are motivated, the shortage of personnel continues to plague the division,” she said.

The 39 vacancies translate to a vacancy rate of 11%. 

“Over and above our vacancy rate, we also have the added challenge of a number of staff who have recently retired, recently resigned and those who are on extended sick leave,” said Somaru.

However, she insisted that service delivery was not being compromised in the meantime. 

“Although it is taking a toll on all prosecutors who are carrying an extra workload and extra burden, we make sure that every single court is serviced by a prosecutor and all our matters are effectively being attended to,” Somaru said. 

According to Somaru, a number of corruption cases in the Free State have either been successfully prosecuted or are in the process of being prosecuted. For 2023/24, the NPA in the province has already surpassed its annual target for 24 persons convicted of private sector corruption, convicting 31 persons. Meanwhile, the target for the number of government officials convicted for corruption was 21, of which only 12 have been convicted.

The case involving a multi-million rand asbestos tender against former Free State premier and ex-ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, along with 18 co-accused, is set for trial in April 2024.  

Somaru said while her division was addressing the shortage of personnel, the Free State had “fortunately” received a “massive influx of aspirant prosecutors earlier this year”.

“The Free State appointed approximately 70 prosecutors. We are mindful that they are new and we’ve got to teach them, but at least we are able to utilise them and push upwards from there, taking our more experienced prosecutors to the regional courts and to the high courts, so that we don’t compromise on service delivery and justice,” she said. 

At the start of September, the NPA announced that “due to ongoing and government-wide budget constraints”, it was “forced to suspend the 2024 intake” of aspirant prosecutors.

The NPA, in a statement at the time, apologised to applicants and said: “This is indeed a very disappointing development that is beyond our control”.

The Free State NPA has been “aggressively attending to recruitment” in order to address the shortage of personnel, said Somaru. She said the NPA is prioritising filling its most critical posts. 

“In a number of these posts, the interview process has already unfolded… Throughout the government, we are sitting with massive budget cuts, so we will definitely fill these posts but we are going to reprioritise them to ensure that we fill the most critical post first. The recruitment process will unfold and, as and when money becomes available, we will fill those posts,” she said. 

Other critical government departments, like the South African Police Service (SAPS), the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and South African Navy have already indicated how budget constraints are affecting them. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: SAPS boss Masemola tightens the purse strings on food, travel and new appointments costs

In August, Daily Maverick reported on how the National Treasury had told all government departments in provinces that no new spending would be allocated to them, in order to prevent the country’s finances from collapsing. 

Power problems

Rolling blackouts and poor infrastructure in South African courts are other key challenges, said Somaru, which have had “devastating impacts on court rolls and court hours.”

“The magistrates utilise handwritten notes and transcriptions where possible. Only a few of the main courts have generators that can be used when the problem is severe. High court cases are transferred to Bloemfontein for finalisation, as the building has limited load shedding,” she said.

Somaru said the NPA in the province is putting measures in place and is working together with the judiciary and other stakeholders, in coming to an agreement and rotating court hours and court staff so that it can best ensure access to justice. DM

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