Cape Town - Legal Aid South Africa has scrapped more than 100 posts from its establishment due to budget cuts in 2021-22 financial year.
This was revealed by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola when responding to parliamentary questions form IFP Themba Msimang.
Msimang said the justice and correctional services portfolio committee was recently informed of the dire situation faced by Legal Aid South Africa due to budgetary constraints.
He asked Lamola to furnish him with a detailed breakdown of the total number of vacancies that currently exist at Legal Aid South Africa.
In his written reply, Lamola said Legal Aid South Africa had a total of 221 vacancies out of 2669 budget positions as at March 31.
He said the number of vacancies was dropped to 176 out of 2699 budgeted posts as at May.
“This translates to 93,5% staffing level versus an annual performance plan target of 95% and 6.5% vacancy rate.”
However, Lamola said Legal Aid SA reduced its establishment by 119 positions - 91 legal practitioners and 28 support staff - in 2021-22.
This was to cushion the budget cuts of R182m and the envisaged baseline reduction of R352 623 000 over the 2022-24 medium term expenditure framework (MTEF).
“In addition, Legal Aid SA implemented various cost cutting measures to optimize available resources. This includes the reduction of employee benefits, operational and capital expenditure budget and minimal use of consultants,” he said.
Lamola’s replies showed that the positions scrapped were as follows in April 2021:
- Eastern Cape 17;
- Free State and North West 22;
- Gauteng 14;
- KwaZulu-Natal 20;
- Limpopo and Mpumalanga 12;
- Western Cape and Northern Cape 21; and
- National office seven.
Six more posts were scrapped in the Eastern Cape, Free State and North West, KwaZulu-Natal as well as Limpopo and Mpumalanga in May 2021.
In its annual performance plan, which was tabled in Parliament in May, Legal Aid South Africa said budget constraints continued to affect its operations.
“The salaries and related costs budget is also negatively impacted by the cost of living increases which are higher than the macro increases and these have to be absorbed within the baseline allocation,” it said.
The report said grant allocation was reduced by R182m in 2021-22, R230.8 million in 2022-23 and R121,8 million in 2023-24 respectively.
It, however, noted that R30m was allocated to courts with known backlogs and allocated resources to local offices where practitioner absence resulted in poor productivity at regional courts in particular.
Legal Aid SA also received additional funding of R34m over the medium term expenditure framework period.
“The funds are to capacitate the Special Commercial Crimes Court.”
A total of R11,1 has been set aside for the appointment of Specialised Commercial Crimes Court practitioners in 2022-23.
The entity said its operating expenditure budget has been reduced over the past five-year period, except for expenditure linked to contractual obligations.
“Areas of funding pressures which are linked to contractual obligations are office accommodation and escalations linked to contracts for security contracts and cleaning services,” it said.
Legal Aid South Africa also said only 2% of its budget has been allocated to capital expenditure.
“This is not adequate to replace assets as and when they fall due. Legal Aid SA has implemented measures to extend the lifespan of the assets, taking into account the current budget constraints.”
Legal Aid SA said it used its limited resources efficiently.
“Legal Aid SA is expected to reduce compensation to employees by R225 768 000 and goods and services expenditure by R308 902 000, over the MTEF period.
“The continued budget cuts are not sustainable as it impacts on staffing and service delivery and will in the medium-term significantly affect the ability of Legal Aid SA to fulfil its mandate.”