Johannesburg - Justice and Correctional Services Minister advocate Michael Masutha has been plucked from relative obscurity and straight into two raging storms facing President Jacob Zuma’s newly re-elected government.
Masutha and his justice, crime prevention and security cluster colleagues are expected to decide in their first meeting whether to continue with their predecessors’ review of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report which found that Zuma and his family unduly benefited from the R246 million security upgrades to his private residence.
A few days after his appointment, Masutha stepped into a new storm surrounding National Director of Public Prosecution Mxolisi Nxasana’s inability to obtain a security clearance from the State Security Agency, which The Sunday Independent first reported in October last year.
Masutha was quick to admit that Nxasana’s woes have been brought to his attention and promised to determine the process to be followed in addressing the matter. It was reported on Saturday that he had sought a meeting with Zuma to discuss the matter.
Three of the four security cluster ministers are newly appointed like Masutha and the others are David Mahlobo (State Security) and Nkosinathi Nhleko (Police). Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is the only survivor of the security cluster that decided to take Madonsela’s report on review.
Former Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, Siyabonga Cwele (State Security) and Nathi Mthethwa (Police) were moved to new portfolios.
Masutha is now the convener of the security cluster and said he had a good relationship with Nhleko, with whom he worked closely when the latter was the ANC chief whip in Parliament.
“Police need to work with the justice department as if we were one department,” Masutha said.
According to Beeld, this week Masutha suggested that Parliament was best placed to deal with Madonsela’s report on the multimillion- rand security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla homestead because the public protector reported to Parliament. Masutha referred enquiries on whether the security cluster’s review of the Nkandla report would proceed to the Government Communication and Information System.
Acting GCIS chief executive and government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said she had not been advised on whether the matter was already before courts by the new security cluster ministers.
In an interview with The Sunday Independent, Masutha also brushed aside concerns that he was too inexperienced to be in charge of two of the most important government departments, following the merger of Justice and Correctional Services with a combined workforce of more than 60 000 employees.
“I’m not new in government, I’ve been a member of Parliament for 15 years. I headed legal services of a government department for three years,” he said.
Masutha was legal services head at the Social Development Department and drafted the law that brought child support grants, now providing relief for more than 11 million children, which he said gave him great pride.
Before his elevation last Sunday, Masutha was science and technology deputy minister, a position to which Zuma appointed him in July last year.
His belief that social policy cannot be divorced from safety and security comes from his stint at Social Development.
Masutha said the view that there is endemic corruption in certain state institutions and government departments must be turned around.
“We have the will,” said Masutha, adding that the ANC’s Mangaung conference was clear on the need to fight corruption.
“There’s still a negative perception of our ability to deal with crime and corruption. This is an area we need to put more effort in,” Masutha said.
Masutha said various statutes such as the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, which established the Asset Forfeiture Unit, Protected Disclosures Act and anti-money laundering laws created a climate where it doesn’t pay to be corrupt.
He also said there shouldn’t be no-go areas where drug syndicates and gangs rule the roost.
Masutha also specialised in child protection law at Lawyers for Human Rights, which he joined in 1991 after graduating with an LLB at Wits University.
“The social aspects of the criminal justice system are of interest to me,” said Masutha.
He said Children’s Courts must process matters with the necessary speed. “Every day counts, every hour counts,” Masutha said.
According to Masutha, family courts are also very critical.
“We must nip the tendency of abuse of women in the bud by making sure that family courts are efficient,” he added.
He described the law as a very noble profession although it had a few bad apples.
Masutha also warned lawyers who take advantage of the ignorance of people and swindle victims of their Road Accident Fund payouts.
“Rampant corruption must be rooted out of the system,” he said.
Masutha said he would work hard to root out “all that nonsense from the system” as it gives lawyers a bad name.
Also high on Masutha’s list is public education about law and risks.
“We can’t have a constitution that people don’t benefit from,” said Masutha, adding that even educated people fall for unscrupulous legal practitioners.
Masutha intends working closely with the Department of Trade and Industry on consumer protection and to prosecute law breakers.
“We must teach people the various risks that can ruin their lives,” he said.
Masutha’s outlook on prisons and crime is that prevention is critical because no harm is suffered while through corrections there is only minimal relief after the harm is done.
Also among his plans are ensuring that the justice system is efficient, improving conviction rates, reducing awaiting trial inmates and overcrowding.
“Repeat offenders are a drawback for our system,” he said.