Bring back the Scorpions and appoint a special prosecutor - Politicsweb, 06 August 2017

Aug 06, 2017
Thousands of cases of fraud, theft, and other crimes need to be investigated, many hundreds of people prosecuted, and plenty imprisoned. Having themselves been captured, neither the so-called "Hawks" nor the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) can be trusted to do the jo


By John Kane-Berman 

Whatever happens in the forthcoming no-confidence vote against Jacob Zuma, or in the general election in 2019, cleaning out South Africa's vast Augean stables will be a massive undertaking stretching years into the future.

Thousands of cases of fraud, theft, and other crimes need to be investigated, many hundreds of people prosecuted and plenty imprisoned. Having themselves been captured, neither the so-called "Hawks" nor the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) can be trusted to do the job.

President Zuma and his Cabinet are too compromised to be entrusted with any of the measures needed to clean out the stables they themselves have fouled. There is little reason to trust any commission of enquiry into "state capture" appointed by Mr Zuma. Nor will there be much public confidence in the team of prosecutors recently appointed by the national director of public prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams, to investigate capture.  

Luthuli House cannot be trusted either. The secretary general of the African National Congress, Gwede Mantashe, rightly says that the ANC cannot "set up its own police force" to "round up the Guptas". Instead, the police should arrest those implicated and the criminal justice system should then "kick in". This is to wash his hands of the problem. Mr Mantashe knows there is little will to make the necessary arrests, certainly not of any big fish. He also knows that the prosecution system has been crippled by the very people he and his comrades have put there.

As for the various parliamentary committees investigating skulduggery at the SABC, Eskom, and elsewhere, they have no powers of arrest and prosecution. The ad hoc committee proposed by the Democratic Alliance is likely to be toothless.

It is time to abolish the Hawks and bring back the Scorpions. It is also time to strengthen the country's prosecuting capacity to handle all cases arising from capture and other major instances of malfeasance in government, the public service and state-owned entities.

In short, it is time for Parliament itself to act. It was Parliament that so infamously abolished the Scorpions in 2008 and replaced them with the Hawks. It needs now to enact legislation to reverse itself.

However, given the scale of criminality and that the NPA has itself been captured, Parliament should also legislate for the appointment of a special prosecutor for all cases referred to him by the re-established Scorpions. This person should be appointed by a panel of retired judges, accountants, and other suitable people with unblemished reputations.

He (or she) should be given a separate budget, large enough to employ all the necessary staff, including independent round-the-clock security against burglary and assassination. He should report to Parliament, not to the NPA or to any minister. Any attempt to interfere with him should be a serious criminal offence.

There must be thousands of frustrated police officers and prosecutors all over South Africa who would jump at the opportunity to help this new special prosecutor cleanse the country.

As for state-owned enterprises, the power to appoint their boards should be removed from the executive branch of government. Otherwise old cronies will simply be replaced with new ones. Parliament should create a new tribunal to appoint boards of all state-owned enterprises. This tribunal could be made up of retired judges, accountants, and businessmen.

No doubt these ideas will be dismissed as fanciful. But they are far less so than relying on the Hawks or Mr Abrahams. At the behest of President Thabo Mbeki and Speaker Frene Ginwala, Parliament torpedoed the investigation by its own standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) into the arms deal of 1999. It is therefore responsible for having allowed the rot to set in. It now has a last chance to redeem itself.

Pravin Gordhan would be the ideal person to introduce the necessary legislation. Parliament will then have to decide whether or not it is serious about putting a stop to state criminality.

*John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. His memoirs, Between Two Fires - Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics, were published earlier this year by Jonathan Ball.  

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