A justice system letdown

2013-05-28 14:00

Make top appointments transparent, say Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo and Reitumetse Mofana.

The media has been abuzz with speculation that President Jacob Zuma is poised to make permanent appointments to the leadership of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Both of these organisations should be playing a crucial role in tackling the wave of corruption currently undermining South Africa.

But given the remarkably poor appointments to the top management of criminal justice institutions during the Zuma presidency, there is a great deal of both interest and concern about who will be selected. Following a transparent recruitment process, those heading both bodies should be appointed for their skills, expertise and integrity.

But indeed, these two institutions have arguably provided a barometer of the profound lack of political will to deal decisively with corruption.

Since December 2011, neither the NPA nor the SIU has had a permanent head.

Menzi Simelane was removed as the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) after the Supreme Court of Appeal unanimously ruled his appointment was “irrational” and “inconsistent” with South Africa’s Constitution and therefore invalid.

This ruling was only to be expected given that the earlier Ginwala Commission had severely criticised Simelane’s approach to giving evidence and raised concerns about his integrity.

The commission had been set up by then president Thabo Mbeki to make recommendations regarding the fitness of the former NDPP, Vusi Pikoli, to hold office.

Pikoli was later vindicated when it became clear he was removed primarily for resisting political interference in the NPA’s work.

A subsequent recommendation by the Public Service Commission that Simelane be subject to a disciplinary hearing for his disgraceful conduct was ignored by both Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe and Zuma, who had appointed him to head the NPA.

Advocate Nomgcobo Jiba was appointed in an acting capacity despite allegations she had misused her powers in an attempt to undermine the corruption investigation into former police chief Jackie Selebi.

She had been suspended from the NPA but was later reinstated after the case was not pursued for unknown reasons, and she did not have to face the charges in a hearing.

After years of sterling work by the SIU in its investigation of corruption, Zuma suddenly removed its highly respected and capable head, Willie Hofmeyr, and replaced him with Willem Heath, who was forced to resign shortly thereafter, following his unsubstantiated claims that Mbeki had initiated the rape and corruption charges against then deputy president Zuma.

The parliamentary portfolio committee on justice has since repeatedly raised concerns about the performance of the SIU.

The organisation was also the focus of a media exposé after its acting head, Nomvula Mokhatla, went against legal advice and reinstated a senior manager who had been fired for charges related to alleged dishonesty.

Subsequently, media reports have detailed conflict among senior managers at the SIU, with a number of them leaving the institution.

Since 1999, inexperienced civilians have consistently been appointed as SA Police Service (SAPS) national commissioner, with disastrous consequences for police morale and performance.

The previous two commissioners left the SAPS stepped in ignominy through their involvement in corruption and other illegal activities.

On April 21, this paper reported that Stanley Gumede and Guido Penzhorn would be appointed as the respective heads of the NPA and the SIU.

This is yet to be confirmed by the presidency.

The report added that both individuals hailed from the president’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

A colleague of Gumede stated he was very knowledgeable of the law, while Penzhorn appears to have a solid record and received recognition for prosecuting companies involved in the Katse Dam corruption scandal on behalf of the Lesotho government.

It may well be that they would make excellent heads of these institutions.

But there is no way for the public to know this, given the opaque way in which these appointments are usually made.

And given Zuma’s consistently poor track record in this regard, many will be sceptical.

It has already been reported that Gumede has various complaints lodged against him with the Magistrates Commission that are yet to be concluded.

In addition, it was reported that Zuma’s lawyer and legal adviser, Michael Hulley, had approached Gumede to gauge whether he would be interested in taking over the role of NDPP.

Hulley’s reputation has been badly damaged given his alleged links to a variety of unsavoury dealings.

For instance, there are claims he illegally came into possession of the so-called spy tapes that were used by the NPA to withdraw the 786 criminal charges against Zuma.

More recently, it was reported, also in this paper, that he might face criminal charges of fraud relating to the Aurora mining debacle.

The rigorous vetting of candidates would help to prevent those with questionable integrity from being appointed.

This will help avoid the type of damage that has been done to these institutions in recent years as a result of poor leadership.

A transparent appointment process would substantially enhance the public credibility of both institutions.

Until public interest, rather than the narrow interests of a coterie of political elites, guides the appointments of the heads of the criminal justicesystem and organisations tasked with tackling corruption, the vision of the National Development Plan, which suggests making improvements to the criminal justicesystem, is unlikely to be achieved.

»?Tamukamoyo and Mofana work for the Institute for Security Studies

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