Hawks bill sparks heated exchange

2012-03-07 13:31

What was meant to be a briefing by the Secretariat of Police and Hawks head General Anwar Dramat to Parliament’s portfolio committee on police today, turned into a heated exchange when the DA’s Dianne Kohler-Barnard warned the committee against again “humiliating” itself.

She was referring to legislation which was passed by the committee in 2008 to disband the Scorpions and establish the Hawks within the police.

The legislation was successfully challenged in the Constitutional Court by businessman Hugh Glenister last year and Parliament was given 18 months to fix it.

The police today presented their plan for a new Hawks unit meant to be independent enough to fight corruption to the committee.

Said Kohler-Barnard: “When the legislation that shut down the Scorpions came to this committee – despite all of our objections – it was bludgeoned through, only to be thrown out by the Constitutional Court.

“I’m hoping very much that this committee does not again, face the humiliation of passing legislation that is unconstitutional,” she said.

Kohler-Barnard and the Freedom Front Plus’s Pieter Groenewald questioned whether the new bill created a truly independent corruption investigating unit, because it was still located within the ranks of the police.

Groenewald said: “The main reason why the Scorpions were disbanded was an argument that said that the Constitution does not allow a separate unit outside the SAPS.

“The way I understand this ruling is that [the Scorpions] is constitutional ... especially when it comes to corruption.”

Kohler-Barnard said the Hawks under the minister of police were “directly answerable to the minister” and that this was a “major hurdle to passing Constitutional muster”.

Jenny Irish-Qhobosheane, secretary of the police, however defended the bill, saying it was important to note that the Constitutional Court’s judgment did not specifically require the creation of a new unit, or the creation of a unit that was completely independent.

Glenister and lawyer Paul Hoffman have specifically asked for the creation of a corruption investigating unit akin to Chapter 9 institution such as the public protector.

Irish-Qhobosheane said the new bill involved Parliament to a far greater extent, with a deadline prescribed to the minister of police for reporting to Parliament on the appointment of the head of the Hawks as well as procedural guidelines for which cases the Hawks would investigate.

“We have taken away the ministerial committee’s functions to determine police guidelines,” she said.

The ministerial committee, composed of the ministers of justice, police, home affairs, finance and intelligence, previously had wide powers over the Hawks unit in terms of which cases were considered priority offences for investigation.

This power now vests solely in the minister of police with the “concurrence of Parliament”.

Irish-Qhobosheane said that while the Hawks would still be funded in term of the police’s budget vote, this money would be ring-fenced for use only by the Hawks.

Lydia Chikunga, chairperson of the committee, said the meeting today was merely the beginning of a long process and that there would be an extensive public participation process, following which the committee would go through the new legislation “sentence by sentence and clause by clause”.

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