Michael Masutha vows to root out any state attorney graft
The justice minister promise largest and most wide-ranging investigation at the institution
Justice minister Michael Masutha promised on Tuesday the government would leave no stone unturned as it moves to stamp out alleged corruption in the state attorney’s office.
The institution provides legal services to government departments but now stands accused of being involved in a host of elaborate scams that have cost the state more than R80bn.
"It is going to be one of the largest and most wide-ranging investigations that the institution has ever conducted," Masutha told reporters.
"When you do spring cleaning, you don’t leave certain nooks, because that is where cockroaches may hide."
The Sunday Times reported that state attorneys who colluded with unscrupulous lawyers cost taxpayers more than R80bn by unlawfully settling cases and losing cases.
The department of health is the worst affected‚ followed by the departments of police and correctional services. The weekend report also stated that the Eastern Cape is the most affected, with 80% of claims against the health department.
President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe the state attorney’s office in July as part of his drive to root out corruption within the government.
"The investigation will help the department of justice 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.
The ministers of health and police complained to him about how their matters were handled by the state attorney’s office, as their departments have been particularly hard-hit.
Court papers were filed late, matters that could have been defended by the state were settled out of court for exorbitant sums without authorisation, and there was apparent collusion between officials within that office, private law firms and real or fictitious litigants to defraud the state, Masutha said. He appealed to members of the public who have information to assist the SIU’s investigation.
SIU head Andy Mothibi said the investigation will cover all nine provinces and will take at least 12 months to complete. The wide-ranging investigation will also probe the actions of private sector players, he said.
Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi provided two examples of fraudulent medical negligence claims: a R70m claim for an allegedly botched circumcision and a R25m claim for a 19-year-old who was supposed to have cerebral palsy but did not. He said both cases were withdrawn after the department sought expert opinion that cast doubt on the claims.
In June Motsoaledi told Business Day that a significant number of medical negligence claims had been withdrawn in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape when questions were asked by either health department officials or the SIU.
Masutha said he had initiated a review in 2017 into the policy and legal framework governing state legal services and the state attorney’s office. The project is led by Legal Aid SA.