Analysis: Government must come clean on ICJ case funding

As South Africa heads to the polls, the government needs to tread carefully not to frustrate the electorate. 

The decision to take Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has undoubtedly placed the country under the international spotlight. This was over allegations of genocide in the Gaza Strip. The case marked a pivotal moment in international law and diplomacy.

High stakes debates over funding secrecy

However, the controversy surrounding the financing of this high-stakes case has ignited serious debates. The debates are around transparency, accountability, and the proper management of resources.

Rumours and concerns about the origins of the funding call for a critical discussion. The discussion that’s central to democratic governance and the public’s right to know the sources and uses of funds. This is particularly important as it will explain or dispel rumours around the funding of this case. Particularly the insinuation of foreign involvement, with Iran cited as a potential contributor.

Vague explanations

The government has been notably reticent in its responses to questions regarding the case’s financing. Both the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) and the Department of Justice and Correctional Services have been opaque. The latter provided vague assurances about adhering to administrative financial management standards.

“Departments that participated in this litigation will in the normal course of performance reporting account for expenditure associated with the ICJ.

“While this matter is unprecedented in substance, the government has on numerous occasions undertaken major projects of national and international importance and accounted for these in line with various administrative prescripts.”

This ambiguity has failed to alleviate the mounting concerns. The debate transcends mere financial curiosity. This is whether the money is from tax revenues, existing budgets, or external entities.

Huge financial expenses

A case of this nature could incur significant expenses, including legal fees, research, administrative costs, and travel expenses. These can potentially amount to millions, if not billions. These costs encompass payments to various stakeholders in the case. These include international legal experts and documentation preparation. Also included are the logistical support for the legal team and public relations efforts.

Given the country’s current financial predicament, the prospect of South Africa funding such a legal challenge seems daunting. 

Increasing deficit

With the budget deficit increasing by R54.7-billion beyond earlier projections, the fiscal stability of the country is in question. This includes a revised budget deficit forecast of 4.9% of GDP for the current fiscal year. An increase from an initial estimate of 4%.

This was starkly outlined by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana in his Medium-Term Budget Statement last November. 

Should funding have been reallocated from other departments, the implications for South African citizens could be extreme. Particularly against the backdrop of budgetary constraints.

This purported secrecy also risks placing South Africa in a diplomatically delicate position. Especially in light of the country’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force.

The call for transparency is not limited to the media. Some politicians too, have emphasised the government’s obligation to disclose the financial specifics of this endeavor.

Political parties demand answers too

“The lack of transparency concerning the financing of the genocide tribunal case raises serious concerns. [And it] may infringe upon the principles of transparency and accountability embedded in the South African Constitution. Not disclosing how public funds are spent on significant legal challenges undermines the citizens’ right to information. [It] jeopardizes government accountability. It potentially violates constitutional norms,” EFF’s Busisiwe Mkhwebane argued.

“As the African Transformation Movement, we hold that transparency is imperative. Even when we support government actions, as in this case. It’s essential to have clear information about the funding sources. Especially if the support comes from foreign governments or private entities,” the ATM added.

They rightly argue that transparency is not a mere nicety. It is a fundamental principle enshrined in the South African Constitution. 

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