Justice minister in EC for probe into swindle claim
Justice and correctional services minister Michael Masutha arrived in the Eastern Cape on Monday to pay a courtesy visit to the troubled Mthatha Master’s office.
The office is one of several offices red-flagged nationwide where the state finds itself settling fraudulent legal claims, and paying millions when it shouldn’t be.
Other hotspots, identified earlier this year, which the Special Investigating Unit is busy combing after a proclamation by President Cyril Ramaphosa in July 13, include the Bhisho and Pretoria Master’s offices.
Speaking to the Dispatch at its offices in Beacon Bay Monday afternoon before heading to Mthatha, Masutha said: “We are cleaning up the state’s legal services. You maybe aware of the SIU investigation, which is part of the reason I am going to Mthatha tomorrow.
“There has been a lot of pressure brought to bear on some of our officials at the state attorney’s offices. As the sting begins to bite, the net is closing in on the culprits.”
The Dispatch reported last week how certain lawyers were apparently swindling millions from the Eastern Cape health department and the Road Accident Fund. The report noted that the same companies had been red-flagged in the Western Cape and Gauteng.
Without mentioning any companies or individuals implicated, Masutha announced that they had “opened up the entire institution” to the SIU.
“The report covers the institution as a whole.
“We are going to sniff. We are going to take sniffer dogs to every nook and cranny.”
The minister said some may be worried about how this would affect them personally.
“We are determined to clean up the system. At the same time we are working on a new dispensation for the state legal services,” said Masutha.
The minister cited a case in which one person “cloned” himself three times.
“He would claim on the same day for consultation, for a court appearance, and for preparation of documents. All happening at the same time.
“And you ask yourself how do you clone yourself three times? Even if you talk of multitasking, you can’t realistically do three things at the same time.”
In some instances the claims “were completely irrational”.
“In certain cases against the state, it was made to settle where it shouldn’t have settled. We are talking millions and millions. We are not talking small change here.
“Not vigorously defending the state’s case, even in instances where there would probably be no valid claim.
“Over and above that, just falsifying claims for actual legal work by practitioners in collusion with some officials.
“There would be cases where claims themselves were false, with or without collusion. Hopefully this investigation will uncover it all,” he said.
In order to ensure that his office held everyone accountable, the department is working with the Hawks. “Where outright criminality presents itself, prosecution should ensue. We are going to pursue this vigorously with all we have.
“We look forward to co-operation and collaboration from the professional bodies, some of whom have expressed jubilation that this has finally arrived. This investigation is long overdue,” Masutha added.
The advocate has also been invited by the University of Fort Hare’s law faculty to its three-day Nelson Mandela centenary celebrations...