November 6 2012 at 09:00am
THE DA has called for disciplinary steps to be taken against Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni after the department revealed it had spent R46,3 million on legal costs in the 2011/12 fin- ancial year.
While the number of cases has shown a significant decline since 2009/10, when 2 970 cases were instituted against the department, falling to 1 099 for the past financial year, the costs have soared, more than doubling from the R22,8m of 2009/10. Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor explained in reply to a written parliamentary question from the DA’s home affairs spokesman, Manny de Freitas, that legal costs are paid only once a case has been finalised and costs awarded, usually to successful litigants. This took a long time from the date the action was instituted, she said. “Legal fees of matters arising in one year are thus normally paid in another financial year,” Pandor said. This would explain the rise in costs at the same time as the number of cases has been more than halved. But De Freitas said the soaring costs were “likely attributable to the fact that the department’s immigration services are a complete disaster and they continuously fail to comply with court orders”. It was Apleni’s job to ensure the immigration service ran smoothly, yet there were still huge backlogs in applications, as well as three contempt of court suits against the department. Apleni, as the accounting officer, had presided over R800m in irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure in three years and had “continuously violated the Public Finance Management Act [PFMA]”, De Freitas said. He said he had written to Pandor asking her to institute disciplinary proceedings against Apleni for his failure to comply with the PFMA. “The minister should, however, also consider Mr Apleni’s role in immigration applications and the bloating legal costs of the department.” Pandor’s reply comes after the department turned in a qualified audit for the past financial year, having achieved its first unqualified audit the previous year. Under immigration services, cases included judicial reviews of the department’s decision to reject asylum applications and temporary and permanent residence permits, and applications for the release of “illegal foreigners” detained at the Lindela Repatriation Centre. There were also cases relating to permits where the department had failed to make a decision within the prescribed period. A number of class actions had been brought in which “hundreds of applicants” were represented in a single court application seeking orders to compel the department to make a decision. There were also cases falling under civic services in which the department had been taken to court after failing to issue IDs, passports and birth certificates correctly or on time. It was sometimes also dragged into disputes over customary marriages, often between spouses of people who had died and their families. Pandor said training of officials had been stepped up on processes and standard operating procedures, as well as on the legislation administered by the department in a bid to reduce the number of claims against it and reduce money spent. More funding had been set aside for staff, especially at a hub at head office dedicated to the adjudication of temporary and permanent residence permits. The Refugees and Immigration Acts had also been amended, which would result in a more streamlined process, Pandor said.