Mbeki sheds light on ‘new’ Scorpions

2008-02-15 00:00

Cape Town — President Thabo Mbeki yesterday moved to allay fears about the disbanding of the Scorpions by giving his firm assurance that the new amalgamated unit envisaged by the government will be bigger and better-equipped than the Scorpions in the fight against organised crime.

Replying to debate on his state of the nation address, Mbeki shed more light on the new unit planned to replace the Scorpions. He said the move will not have a negative effect on the salaries and conditions of current members of the Directorate of Special Operations.

Earlier this week, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula angered opposition parties, when, during debate on Mbeki’s address, he announced that the Scorpions will be disbanded and the organised crime unit of the police will be phased out to form a new amalgamated unit.

Opposition parties argued that most South Africans hold the Scorpions in far higher regard than the South African Police Service.

Mbeki said the decision to form the new unit was based on a detailed review of the country’s criminal justice system, as well as the findings and recommendations of the Khampepe Judicial Commission, in a bid to further improve the country’s response to crime.

Acknowledging the concerns about the Scorpions, Mbeki said the decision was intended to bring the specialised investigative skills focused on organised crime under one roof in a specialised unit that will have more personnel and capacity than currently exists in the Scorpions.

He said staff will be drawn from both the Scorpions and the Organised Crime Unit of the SAPS and, possibly, other institutions in the government system.

Mbeki said the new unit to fight organised crime will serve as a referral body, enabling it to focus on “the most complicated and the most pernicious’’ and will play the same role for which the Scorpions was established.

“This specialist unit will continue to be guided and assisted by the skills that reside among members of the National Prosecuting Authority and our intelligence service, ensuring that its operations are both prosecution and intelligence driven, to continue the history of the high conviction rate of the Scorpions,’’ he said.

Mbeki said the recommendations of the Khampepe Commission would be released when Parliament is approached on the new proposals, so that people can better understand the context of the move.

Mbeki stressed that the South African Police Service remains the “pre-eminent and unequalled’’ unit that confronts crime daily, including organised crime.

“I was very disturbed when I listened to unfortunate remarks during our debate, which sought to denigrate the critically important work that our police service does … The SAPS is made up of patriotic men and women, who have … demonstrated an unwavering commitment, even to give their lives, to guarantee the safety and security of all our citizens.

“Let us not insult them or speak carelessly about them …,’’ he said.

Responding to the recent allegations that he knew about the corruption case against Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, but failed to take action, Mbeki said he had acted “strictly in terms of the National Prosecutions Authority Act”.

“We are convinced that the process put in place to deal with this matter must be allowed to take its course.”

Meanwhile, DA leader Helen Zille said yesterday she is to write to ANC president Jacob Zuma to request an urgent meeting as she intends to state “unambiguously” the “disastrous” consequences that disbanding the Scorpions will have for South Africa.

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