After months of tension, Department of Justice puts up R6m for legal reviews of the State Capture Report
Short-term kitty comes on the back of tension between the DoJ and Chief Justice Raymond Zondo over budget and the appointment of lawyers who have been handling reviews of the State Capture report at no fee thus far.
The Department of Justice has freed up R6-million for the next six months up to the end of March 2024 to provide for the legal bills of private attorneys currently working on several high court reviews of the State Capture Commission’s final report.
Although the fine print is yet to be thrashed out, the DoJ’s pledge seems aimed at settling months of tension between senior justice officials and Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the former chairperson of the Commission.
Justice Zondo roped in a small group of private lawyers to help push work on some of the court cases late last year after it emerged that the State Attorney’s handling thereof was not up to scratch.
Those lawyers agreed to do so with no immediate clarity regarding contracts or pay pending the outcome of Zondo’s discussions with the department. But Zondo then found himself battling justice officials for months in his efforts to negotiate for the department to formally appoint those attorneys or to provide a private legal team for the reviews and or budget to cover this.
Daily Maverick first revealed tension over the battle plan for the high court reviews in February 2023 and Zondo has since revealed his concern and frustration over the DoJ’s handling of the issue in public.
It has now been established that the justice department DG, Doc Mashabane, has provided written confirmation of the allocation of funds to pay the private lawyers. This flows from a meeting between Zondo, Solicitor General Fhedzisani Pandelani and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola several weeks ago.
However, an initial concern appears to be that the money is not intended to cover retrospective claims, but only legal bills arising after August 2023.
Given that some of the private lawyers brought in by Justice Zondo have been working for at least a year, there is concern about why the conditional allocation makes no provision for work done prior to that.
Furthermore, the R6-million figure on offer might also be insufficient given the general cost of litigation and South Africa’s now all-too-familiar system of Stalingrad-style court battles that can run for extended periods.
The State Capture Report is being challenged by among others, former spy boss Arthur Fraser, former Eskom acting CEO Matshela Koko, Gupta enterprise kingpin Salim Essa and Cabinet minister Gwede Mantashe.
It is understood that the cost of counsel briefed in the reviews is covered by a different budget. Senior advocates Paul Pretorius and Pule Seleka are among a group of evidence leaders from the State Capture Commission briefed on specific review applications.
Daily Maverick interviews with several individuals familiar with the issue suggest the parties are on the same page about defending the report, but are clearly not aligned on the how-to.
Zondo, in anticipation of mighty fights as some of the reviews are politically charged, wants a capable and focused legal team onside.
He is also cited as a respondent in his capacity as the former chair of the commission.
Conducted at a cost of more than R1-billion, the State Capture Commission produced a final report comprising various volumes.
The DoJ, as custodian of the Commissions Act, is duty-bound to defend the report but is seemingly rigidly budget conscious, if not somewhat territorial.
It initially maintained that leaving the reviews with the State Attorney was the most cost-effective option as financial resources could then be freed for senior advocates briefed in those matters.
However, Zondo’s concern about the State Attorney’s capacity is not without merit.
He previously told Daily Maverick that he did initially ask the State Attorney to defend the reviews. However, it was later discovered that the State Attorney had not carried out some of the instructions.
His personal inquiries in August 2022 revealed the State Attorney’s Johannesburg office did not have the capacity to deal even with its own caseload – with individuals handling roughly 1,000 files each.
Daily Maverick recently revealed how it had taken the State Attorney more than five years to collect on a writ of execution to recover a R200,000 cost order from former SAA chair Dudu Myeni. DM