Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) – 12 Dec 2015
A HOME Affairs legal officer in Pretoria has pleaded with the Western Cape High Court for mercy, saying she was “mortified” when she read a judgment handed down recently which described the department as dysfunctional and threatened to refer it to the public protector.
The senior legal administration officer, Yvonne Banyamme Seboga, has accepted full responsibility for the manner in which the matter, which led to the scathing judgment, was dealt with.
She blamed her oversight on a heavy workload and severely underresourced litigation unit.
The judgment stemmed from an application lodged against the department and refugee authorities by Kennedy Tshiyombo, who fled violence in the DRC nearly 10 years ago.
Tshiyombo received an asylum seeker permit which was renewed from time to time and he was asked to complete a fresh application for refugee status in October 2008.
But his application was rejected as unfounded days later and a later appeal to the Refugee Appeal Board was also dismissed.
He turned to the High Court, asking it to review and set aside the decisions.
Department officials, however, failed to file the administrative record of the case, which led to delays and to the matter eventually coming to a standstill.
Judge Ashley Binns-Ward delivered a judgment in the matter last month, saying it was plain there was a “systematic dysfunctionality” in the relevant branch of the department which had resulted in its persistent failure or inability to comply with its legal obligations in matters in which its decisions were taken on judicial review.
He said there had been undertakings that the problems would be addressed, “all to no effect thus far”.
Judge Binns- Ward gave the department and refugee authorities until last Thursday to show cause why they should not be held personally liable for the additional costs Tshiyombo incurred.
In addition, they were ordered to explain why he should not refer the matter to the public protector for investigation.
In response, the department filed Seboga’s affidavit in which she said she was to blame for the manner in which Tshiyombo’s case was handled.
She said the number of court cases lodged against the department had increased significantly while the number of staff members had nearly halved.
In 2012 more than 1 800 cases were served on the department. That figure had increased steadily to 2 056 served on the department in 2013, 2 358 in 2014, and 2 435 this year.
The increased number of cases had an adverse impact on the morale of staff members and led to the resignation of two junior legal administration officers, according to Seboga.
Seboga said the department was however in the process of appointing 10 legal administration interns, with the appointments to be made by January 1r.
Judge Binns-Ward has reserved judgment in the matter.