Raymond Zondo. Picture: ALON SKUY
Raymond Zondo. Picture: ALON SKUY

The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture has so far cost the state R700m, slightly more than double the amount mentioned by justice minister Ronald Lamola in September 2019.

The lifespan of the commission, which was established in August 2018 under deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, has been extended to end-March 2021 so that it can wrap up its work.

The commission has delved into allegations of fraud and corruption at state owned enterprises such as SAA, Eskom, Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of SA among others.

It is anticipated that many prosecutions of those guilty of looting the state will arise from these probes.

Justice and correctional services department acting CFO Nhlanhla Mthembu told members of parliament’s justice and correctional services committee on Wednesday of the R700m cost of the commission to date since inception.

Acting director-general of the department Jacob Skhosana added that the main cost drivers of the commission were the investigation and legal teams. The commission had asked for an additional R42m to sustain the investigations as this budget had run dry.

Skhosana noted that the investigators were using expensive equipment and were spending about R18m a month on investigations both in terms of personnel and IT.

Skhosana said the commission had asked for R240m for the 2020/2021 financial year but the department of justice refused to agree to this partly because the budget provided for a 5% increase in legal fees at a time of economic slowdown when the rest of the country was not getting salary increases.

The commission had also moved out of its expensive private sector premises into one provided by the Johannesburg municipality. These measures reduced the budget to R150m, and the budget is now R108m.

National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi asked MPs to imagine what it would cost law enforcement and the NPA to prosecute the corruption cases arising from the commission, given the costs of the commission itself. Skills and capacity would be required to properly address the “avalanche” of work that is going to come to the NPA’s investigative directorate from the Zondo commission and other commissions of inquiry.

Batohi said the NPA had been hollowed out of investigation and prosecution skills for highly complex corruption cases and had been engaging with the Zondo commission with a view to law enforcement and the investigative directorate taking over its IT systems and capabilities. This would be a huge benefit in holding accountable those responsible for the large-scale corruption, though the NPA would not be able to pay the same “unsustainable” salaries paid by the commission for these skills.

Deputy justice minister John Jeffery informed the committee that the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill would provide for the expungement of criminal records for most of those paying admission of guilt fines both those from the past and the future. These would include those who contravened the Covid-19 regulations.

He said consultations were under way on the bill, which would not be ready by the end of July.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za

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