‘It started with Vusi’

2013-06-02 14:00

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According to prosecutors, NPA has been in slow decline for years.

The problems in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) started when Advocate Vusi Pikoli was sacked.

“(The dismissal) was unfair to him as a person, but also unfair to the prosecutorial services. I think it was an extremely stupid thing to do,” Jan Henning, a former NPA deputy head under Advocate Bulelani Ngcuka said this week.

City Press interviewed 18 current and former prosecutors this week in the wake of the NPA’s failed disciplinary hearing against anti-corruption prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach.

They have all called for the dignity and the pride of the NPA to be restored.

Pikoli, a former national director of public prosecutions, and Henning both spoke out about what they called a crisis of leadership in the NPA.

Pikoli told City Press that political influence in the NPA – which is constitutionally required to be independent – had become “glaring”.

“Politicians must not talk about the impartiality of the NPA yet go on the sides and exert pressure on particular cases,” he said.

Pikoli cited the example of the “Amigos” case, in which corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering charges against senior KwaZulu-Natal politicians Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni were dropped two weeks after Advocate Moipone Noko was appointed acting director of public prosecutions (DPP) in that province.

“As soon as the leadership changed in KwaZulu-Natal, the charges were dropped,” he said.

“This gives the impression that there is political pressure.

“We haven’t been informed of the reasons behind dropping the charges. It could well be there are reasons, but why wasn’t the public informed?”

The Democratic Alliance has gone to court to force the NPA to release the reasons behind the acquittal of Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni.

Henning also told City Press that the “good part of the prosecuting authority is often overshadowed by the poor performance of the top management.

“The crisis is at top level, not that all top managers are incompetent. Fortunately, there are still people like (head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit) Willie Hofmeyrwho are able to steer the NPA out of this difficult period.”

Henning believes the problems afflicting the NPA began with the suspension and subsequent dismissal of Pikoli in 2009.

Pikoli was suspended by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2007 after a row with then justice minister Brigitte Mabandla and her director-general at the time, Advocate Menzi Simelane, over former police commissioner Jackie Selebi’s case.

Following President Jacob Zuma’s victory at the ANC’s 2007 elective conference in Polokwane, caretaker president Kgalema Motlanthe sacked Pikoli, even though he was cleared of wrongdoing by the Ginwala Commission’s report in November 2008.

Henning added that the subsequent appointment of Simelane as NPA head, which was later declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, had not helped. “Prosecutors didn’t have faith in him (Simelane) and if you have no faith in your leaders, it affects your pride in your organisation.”

Another former member of the NPA’s senior management team was highly critical of Advocate Nomgcobo Jiba’s appointment as caretaker head at the NPA.

“It’s an understatement to say it is a crisis. It’s actually a disaster. That institution is key in dispensing justice?.?.?.?There is no confidence in the leadership.”

The former manager said Jiba was “more interested in politics than running the institution”.

“That institution is collapsing. There are brains that are sitting there, not being used simply because they stick to their oath.”

The majority of current prosecutors City Press spoke to said they were too busy to concern themselves with a crisis in the NPA’s top management. In fact, most agreed that there had been an adverse effect on morale in the institution.

A senior NPA advocate in KwaZulu-Natal said the decision in the “Amigos” case had “destroyed people’s morale”.

“The new acting DPP (Noko) was appointed and withdrew the charges against them almost immediately. This has destroyed people’s morale. It has created a feeling of real uncertainty. People don’t know where we stand.”

Another prosecutor from Western Cape, in reference to the Breytenbach case, said: “It’s always about politics and politicians getting involved in our work.”

A prosecutor from Gauteng said things in the NPA were not as “rosy” as was presented by management, but most prosecutors were afraid of speaking out. “Look at what happened to Breytenbach. I can’t afford to lose my job.”

A prosecutor from Northern Cape said that “political appointments in the NPA lead to havoc?.?.?.?There was a time when the NPA was stable, but now we have been compromised.”

Jeff Radebe responds

The minister is impressed with the performance of the NPA, which has so far recorded an impressive conviction rate of 89.9%, and 97.8% on cybercrimes, which had presented challenges in the past due to its sophistication.

The minister has full confidence in the current leadership at the NPA and the Special Investigating Unit as they are clearly steering the ship in the right direction.

The minister finds it quite disturbing that those “former senior officials and leaders” make it their responsibility to diagnose this important institution of government without being privy to the annual report that indicates its performance and handling of its finances.

The department (of justice and constitutional development) is confident that the financial situation at the NPA is in a stable condition as they work closely with our director-general as the accounting officer.

The focus seems to be more on perceptions of a so-called crisis that is fuelled by a few cases that have attracted media attention because of the individuals involved. (Critics are) clearly oblivious of other very important cases where the NPA has excelled.

The NPA prosecutes its cases based on relevant and admissible evidence, and of course will not win all cases.

Justice is not only dispensed when a guilty verdict is returned, but even an acquittal based on law is justice. We hope people will refrain from viewing or judging institutions of government from an uniformed, emotional and political perspective.

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