CORRECTIONAL Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has conceded that the prisons system is completely out of control.
She appeared yesterday before Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts with eight officials to explain how she would solve problems identified last year by Auditor-General Terrence Nombembe.
Nombembe found R483million of irregular expenditure and could not verify whether movable assets worth R264million existed or not.
The special investigations unit is currently investigating allegations that former prisons chief financial officer Patrick Gillingham accepted at least R2,1million in bribes from Bosasa in exchange for awarding Bosasa more than R1billion prisons contracts. Nombembe also found that the department was breaking the Correctional Services Act by allowing prisons to be overcrowded.
But instead of telling Scopa how she planned to solve overcrowding, Mapisa-Nqakula revealed that she wanted the Auditor-General to ignore overcrowding, and stop including this in the audit.
"It doesn't matter what efforts you make, overcrowding will always be a challenge. If you want to deal decisively with crime, you will evidently have a problem with overcrowding."
New government policy says prisons overcrowding can be reduced if people who cannot afford to pay bail of less than R8000 are released.
But Mapisa-Nqakula said: "Guess what, every day you will find people who have R200 or R400 bail only because (for) most of the people it is difficult to confirm their physical addresses. We can't release you without confirming your address, because we have to have a way of tracking you down."
She added that she could not make any commitment last year to improve overcrowded prisons.
When DA MP Deetlefs du Toit complained that the department had failed to say how many prisoners were raped last year, Mapisa-Nqakula said prisoners were raped on a daily basis.
"You have no control over what happens after inmates have been locked up after a particular time."
Earlier in the meeting, Scopa lashed out at prisons officials for overspending R483million more than was in their budget - in violation of public finance laws.
"Spending the money on overtime does not justify that you broke the law," Scopa chairperson Themba Godi said..
But Mapisa-Nqakula said "judging by allocation of funds, we are operating on a permanent deficit and it seems for the next three years we are going to operate on a deficit".
The department's director-general, Xoliswa Sibeko, has been suspended for over six months. Mapisa-Nqakula admitted for the first time that an internal disciplinary hearing had cleared Sibeko of all charges - but that she still wanted Sibeko out.