National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi. Picture: ALON SKUY
National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi. Picture: ALON SKUY

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) does not have enough money to pay all of its salaries this financial year and will have to slash staff by more than 550 if it is to remain within budget over the medium term.

The financial crisis could worsen an already volatile situation at the cash-strapped authority, which is already understaffed and needs more prosecutors.

The dire financial state of the institution, which is tasked to wage war on corruption and state capture, came into focus on Tuesday in parliament when a delegation from the NPA, led by national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi, briefed the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services. 

Batohi said vacancy rates were about 20% on average in the country. The percentage was even higher at specialised units such as the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit and the Asset Forfeiture Unit, at between 25% and 28%. 

In actual terms the NPA had lost about 600 prosecutors since 2015 as a result of not being able to recruit any new prosecutors, Batohi said.

“That’s had a major impact on delivery of services,” she said. 

The NPA is already reeling from a credibility crisis over the past decade under president Jacob Zuma. If not adequately resourced it could throw a spanner in the works on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to cleanse  the government of the rampant corruption during his predecessor’s rule.

Batohi’s appointment, with that of new investigative directorate head advocate Hermione Cronje, signified the president’s intentions to restore confidence in the prosecuting authority.

Fighting the scourge of corruption is a huge focus of Ramaphosa’s presidency, but obtaining the skills to prosecute complex corruption cases does not come cheap, given the level of capacity and skills required. The success of the fight against corruption will in turn have an impact on the credibility and the integrity of a key part in the criminal justice system. 

Batohi said the NPA needs urgent intervention. “We will find it extremely difficult to meet the demands on the NPA,” she said.

The portfolio committee heard that almost 89% of the NPA’s budget is spent on wages, which in the 2018/2019 financial year has ended in a R77m shortfall. The second-biggest budget item, goods and services ended in a R72m shortfall.

Hanika van Zyl, acting chief director of finance and procurement of the NPA, said the 2018/2019 shortfall was funded through reallocation of funds within the department of justice.

The projected shortfall for the 2019/2020 financial year for compensation of employees was budgeted at R27m, while goods and services is expected to have a R94m shortfall, Van Zyl said. The projected shortfall in 2020/2021 in employee compensation will grow to R88m, while the shortfall for 2021/2022 is expected to be R86m and R181m in 2022/2023.