PRETORIA– The South African government has initiated a nationwide investigation into allegations of corruption levelled against the Office of the State Attorney, says the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Michael Masutha.

Led by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the investigation comes following a presidential proclamation authorising the SIU to investigate the irregularities at the institution which is tasked with providing legal services to national and provincial departments.

This follows concerns raised against the institution for alleged malpractices, lack of professionalism, and suspicion of abuse of office towards unlawful ends, among others.

Briefing the media on the president’s proclamation, Masutha said the scams which have been uncovered include the non-timely filing of court papers in litigation matters, undue and particularly exorbitant unauthorised out of court settlements even in instances where such matters could have been defended on behalf of the state.

There are also allegations of apparent collusion between certain officials within the State Attorney’s Office, private legal practitioners and real or fictitious litigants to defraud and conduct other acts of irregular and corrupt activities against the State.

This corruption is estimated to have cost the State more than 80 billion Rand (about 5.6 billion US dollars), and the investigation is aimed at bringing to a halt these alleged practices in the provision of State legal services, particularly in conducting litigation for and against the State, Masutha said.

The investigation will help the Department of Justice to lay to rest concerns that have been raised by members of the public, the legal fraternity and other government departments regarding the functioning and conduct of some officials within the Office of the State Attorney, said Masutha, who was joined by Police Minister Bheki Cele, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and the SIU head, Andy Mothibi.

According to the proclamation signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month, the allegations to be investigated include serious maladministration in connection with the affairs of the Office of the State Attorney and improper or unlawful conduct by some employees or officials.

They will also investigate the unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public funds or property; unlawful, irregular or unapproved acquisitive act, transaction, measure or practice having a bearing upon state property and intentional or negligent loss of public money or damage to public property.

In addition to these, the SIU will investigate whether there was a contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004, and the unlawful or improper conduct which has caused or may cause serious harm to the interests of the public.

Where appropriate and in addition to the investigation by the SIU, disciplinary action as well as the criminal investigation will be initiated against alleged perpetrators to ensure that firm action is taken to uproot corrupt activities.

We, therefore, encourage anyone who can assist by providing useful information to avail themselves to the SIU to assist in the investigation, Masutha added.

Mothibi anticipated that this investigation will cover all the offices of the State Attorney across the country.

This investigation is quite complex. We are giving the investigation teams no less than 12 months. But in the event where more cases emerge – we will not turn a blind eye. We will finalise the number of people who will make up the team in the next week or two, Mothibi said.

The Department of Health and the Police are the most affected by the alleged scams and corruption. Motsoaledi said corruption was so widespread that since 2013, his department alone had paid out 60 billion Rand in malpractice claims, some of which could turn out to be untrue.

Quoting medico claims figures from the last financial year alone, Motsoaledi said his department has close to 57 billion Rand in claims by people suing the department. However, some of these cases have raised eyebrows, including one for 70 million Rand for a supposedly botched circumcision.

Upon investigation, Motsoaledi said it turned out that the patient had never even been circumcised at all and the hospital had, in fact, saved him from illness.

Another 25-million-Rand claim by a patient supposedly suffering from cerebral palsy also turned out to be untrue. I am aggrieved and want people arrested. We must investigate the whole network,” the Minister said.

“Some doctors must also be arrested because they collude with private law firms in defrauding the state. I know there are private lawyers in the Eastern Cape where most fraudulent cases occurred.they need to be arrested. This is taking too long.

Cele said: We have to work hard to ensure that we arrest these perpetrators. While the SIU deals with its matter there are police matters that we will have to take over. For example, there might be criminal charges and elements going forward and the Hawks are the relevant body to take the matter forward.”

Measures to ensure that this thread doesn’t continue at the Office of the State Attorney, Masutha said a review of the policy and legislative framework governing the state legal services particularly the role of the Office of the State Attorney and other legal services in government is underway.

This is intended to develop a new comprehensive and more effective system for the provision of state legal services at all three spheres of government so as to enhance its efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism.