MPs decry runaway costs of Zondo commission of inquiry
The commission into state capture has cost taxpayers R700m since its initiation and now MPs want answers about the inquiry's runaway costs.
The commission is getting an additional R30m from the department of justice to sustain its investigations. This is on top of the R150m it was allocated for this financial year.
Parliament also heard on Wednesday that the state was implementing measures to curb the costs of the commission.
Acting director-general of justice Jacob Skosana told parliament's portfolio committee on justice that he has instructed the secretary of the commission to be firm on the hours that the legal people are being compensated for and cap the hours.
Skosana said they needed strict control in terms of making sure that the commission's legal officers get paid for their input per hour and per day.
MPs heard that the budget request for 2020/21 from the commission was for R240m.
But this request was shot down due to the country’s poor economic climate. The commission was allocated R150m.
“We sat down with the commission and Treasury and we refused to sign on that budget. The very same thing that caught my eye when we received their budget proposal was the fees on the legal team.
There was a 5% escalation on what they were paying last year,” said Skosana.
He told the commission that no-one in the country was getting an increase and if he signed on the 5% increase it would send the wrong message to South Africans who are being told to tighten their belts.
“We refused and there was a deadlock ...”
Skosana said the commission revised its request, but the revision was to keep the percentage and only reduce the numbers. This, too, was rejected.
“I said the principle is wrong , the economy is down.”
Skosana also claimed that as a result of their discussions, the commission vacated the private sector premises that it rented and moved to a government building in the Joburg city centre, where it does not pay any rent. This is part of what reduced their costs from R240m, he said.
“The fees are staggering,” he said about the costs of the commission, “but we have not approved any cent more than what they were getting and asked the state attorney to be firm on the hours ...”
Skosana told MPs that the commission's main cost drivers were investigations and its legal component.
On average, the commission spent R18m a month on investigations. The money is used to compensate investigators and for the systems they use in their investigations, including licences.
“Where the money has run dry is in investigations. The R42m being asked is to sustain investigations,” he said responding to EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who wanted details about funds spent on the commission.
“Is there any fat that was supposed to have been cut? Everybody is tightening his or her belt. We can't be funding an institution without transparency as to what are the cost drivers driving the high costs in that institution,” justice portfolio committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe had asked the department.
While Skosana told MPs that the commission had requested an additional R42m for investigations, he later told TimesLIVE the department could only give them R30m.
Magwanishe said the committee would like more information on:
• The scale that is being used to pay senior counsel
• How much they are earning a day
• Why did the commission use a private sector building when there is state accommodation.
“We want transparency. We want to know how the money has been used and why the costs have been escalating. We want to know why private sector buildings were used when we have accommodation as government. If we are tightening our belts, all of us must do that.”
The commission has been sitting for almost two years and its lifespan was extended to March 2021.