Life after the Scorpions

2008-11-03 00:00

The majority in the ANC is not gloating about the pending dissolution of the Scorpions. It’s sad that it comes to this. For what was meant to be an elite organised crime-fighting unit, the pride of the nation, has become a source of division. We’ll forever disagree on who is responsible for what in this saga and how we came to this. We must now move on.

Parliament didn’t just blindly, hurriedly implement the Polokwane resolution on the Scorpions. Parliament is not some sub-committee of the ANC. We did not abandon our legislative role. We had extensive public hearings. The submissions were organised in reports and pored through. To try to find greater consensus, two representatives each from the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Scorpions participated throughout the process. We drew in technical experts. We considered five models to fight organised crime. We re-ported to Parliament on these models. We spent over 190 hours on the Bill in formal meetings and at least another 100 hours in informal exchanges with key stakeholders.

We unanimously rejected the weak, limp SAPS Bill the executive offered us and we rewrote it to ensure a more effective unit to fight organised crime. The related National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Amendment Bill was also amended. The final model was influenced by public submissions and some of the views of the opposition parties (yes, indeed). Of course, majority parties must take the views of minorities into account, but they have the final say. That’s democracy.

We have certainly not ruled out further consideration of the new model to fight organised crime either. It’s a work in progress. We have provided the basic features of the new model. We can improve on it. It will have to be considered further in three contexts: the finalisation of the new proposed integrated criminal justice system; the pending overhaul of the SAPS Act as a whole; and the Minister of Safety and Security’s report to Parliament within three years on the performance of the new unit and the need for any legislative amendments.

We tried, in fact, to strike three balances. Firstly, between providing a firm framework for the new unit and not being too prescriptive. Secondly, between recognising the speciality of organised crime and locating it as part of our fight against crime as a whole. Thirdly, between the unit being a part of the SAPS and being independent in a way that avoids replicating the tensions between the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO or Scorpions) and the SAPS.

The new unit, the Directorate of Priority Crime (DPCI), will focus on priority crimes, in particular “serious organised crime, serious commercial crime and serious corruption” and will retain a multi- disciplinary approach. Prosecutors will not be part of the unit. They will work with investigators as required, in ways that ensure that the right to a fair trial of the accused is not undermined. Legal officers within the SAPS will be strengthened and will work with investigators to ensure that investigations are legally sound. Experts will be seconded from the South African Revenue Service, the Financial Intelligence Centre, Home Affairs and other organisations to the new unit.

A major part of the problem with the Scorpions was that the inter-ministerial committee did not exercise its oversight function properly. Nor did Parliament. In terms of the bill, both a ministerial committee and an inter-departmental co-ordinating committee will have to exercise executive oversight over the DPCI and ensure that the multi-disciplinary approach works effectively. Parliament also has to exercise active oversight over the unit.

The head of the DPCI will be a SAPS national deputy commissioner appointed by the Minister in consultation with cabinet. The staff of the DPCI will be rigorously vetted and subject to regular integrity testing. Transitional mechanisms to ensure the transfer of powers, investigations, assets, budgets and liabilities have been provided for. Through the help of one of the country’s foremost labour experts, the NPA Bill was amended to facilitate the transition. The transfer of cases will be managed by the ministers of Justice and Safety and Security in a way that does not impede processing them further.

To avoid the new unit being politically biased, we have, for now, provided for an independent complaints mechanism headed by a retired judge.

Of course, we understand the anxieties of the Scorpions staff, and we need to address them further. But their transfer to the new unit will be effected in terms of our very progressive labour legislation. And it’s not true that the ANC believes that they are all politically biased. Many of them can play an ex-tremely valuable role in the DPCI. They should not prejudge the unit and are urged to join it and try to make it work in the interests of our country.

Ultimately, just how effective the new unit will be depends on how skilfully the legislation is implemented. It also depends on the quality of the DPCI’s leadership, and the calibre of its membership.

We have been polarised enough over the Scorpions. We need to now look ahead. With elections looming, it’s not going to be easy, but we now need to reach out across the divides over this, and work together to ensure that the new unit becomes powerful and effective. Given the scourge of crime, we cannot afford not to.

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