President Cyril Ramaphosa says government must ensure that it is delivering quality services in order to avoid litigation from frustrated citizens.
The President was speaking at the inaugural Intergovernmental National Litigation Forum held in Pretoria on Friday.
President Ramaphosa acknowledged that at times, citizens turn to litigation to entrench their rights.
“The fact that some South Africans are resorting to the courts to uphold their rights points to widespread and systemic shortcomings in service delivery.
“Our first responsibility as government is to ensure that we address all these shortcomings and that all persons in this country are able to fully exercise their rights. That, first and foremost, is how we will reduce legal action being taken against the State,” he said.
The President highlighted that state litigation costs have become “untenable and unsustainable” and must be addressed.
“Litigation against the state has risen by staggering levels. The legal fees for national and provincial spheres of government over the past five financial years amount to approximately R7 billion. The contingent liability resulting from claims against the State prior to the proclamation of the State Attorney Amendment Act of 2014 still needs to be fully interrogated.
“But the Auditor-General has reported that the contingent liability was sitting at R147 billion for the 2020/2021 financial year.
“Yet, even as we work to reduce the potential for litigation against the State, we need to have mechanisms such as this forum in place to more effectively safeguard the interests and resources of the South African people.”
He said mediation in good faith as a means to avoid going to court is a way that can reduce litigation costs without “short-changing” citizens.
“When people are concerned about anything that affects their lives, there needs to be engagement, there needs to be discussion and there needs to be negotiation to see the extent to which matters can be resolved.
“We must urgently…implement the State Mediation Policy to resolve disputes speedily. This will require the development of directives and standards to ensure streamlined oversight of the Offices of the State Attorney, not only by the Office of the Solicitor-General but also by the Presidency.”
President Ramaphosa raised concern about what he called a lack of coordination in government when dealing with litigation.
He emphasised that a disaggregated approach can have “huge costs for our fiscus” and government’s ability to fulfil its electoral mandate.
“This forum has been established to drive a coordinated approach to the management of State litigation. This coordinated approach is necessary to ensure that government puts forward the best legal case possible.
“In this time of great scarcity, let us do everything within our means – through effective coordination of litigation – to free up the financial resources of the state to pursue our developmental agenda and improve people’s lives,” President Ramaphosa said.
Source: South African Government News Agency