Hawks ‘will continue crime fight’

2011-03-18 07:13

The Hawks have warned criminals that they will continue their fight against corruption while they take steps to rectify legislation in line with a Constitutional Court ruling that current laws leave the unit vulnerable to political interference.

“Criminals should not be under the impression that the Constitutional Court judgment eliminates the work of the Hawks,” its spokesperson McIntosh Polela said in a statement yesterday.

“The unit’s fight against corruption continues unhindered,” he said.

The court ruled earlier that chapter six of the SA Police Service Act, as amended, which enabled the disbanding of the Scorpions and the formation of the Hawks, was constitutionally invalid.

The declaration of invalidity was suspended for 18 months to give lawmakers in Parliament time to rectify the legislation.

Police ministry spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said: “We want to assure the public that we will adhere to this timeline.”

Businessman Hugh Glenister, who launched the application, said he was “a little bit shell-shocked”.

“I was really not expecting this,” he said yesterday.

Glenister took the case through the courts following a resolution at the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference that the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), known as the Scorpions, be disbanded.

Government maintained that the move was being made to improve crime fighting capacity.

However, ANC leaders and alliance leaders from the Congress of SA Trade Unions and SA Communist Party repeatedly accused the Scorpions of a political agenda as the unit tried to prosecute President Jacob Zuma for allegedly accepting a bribe facilitated by his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik and French arms company Thint.

After Shaik’s conviction and sentence for corruption and fraud, the Scorpions pursued Zuma and Thint, but the case was dropped due to interference in that investigation shortly before Jacob Zuma was inaugurated as president.

“I am full of the joys of spring,” said Glenister, who had cut a lone figure, chain-smoking during the court recesses in previous hearings on the matter.

He lost several times as parallel objections by political parties and public petitions had no effect on the decision.

Plans went ahead to disband the Scorpions, which fell under the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and justice department, and from the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI).

“I can only hope, but I cannot predict, that South Africans will now start tightening the reins on their politicians at every level, from the municipal to national,” he said.

At one point he considered giving up.

“But people were chirping in my ear and making me positive. When battling a lone battle there are times when you get despondent, you just want to walk away and say ‘enough’. But human beings have the capacity to inspire others.”

ANC elections head Ngoako Ramatlhodi said that though the party still had to study the judgment: “We are bound by the decision of our courts. We will look into that legislation with a view of complying.”

Justice Department spokesperson Tlali Tlali said that although the legislation had intended to address the issue of independence, steps would be taken to comply.

The ruling was supported by opposition political parties, including the DA, Freedom Front Plus, Christian Democratic Party IFP and United Democratic Movement, which had also opposed the dissolution of the Scorpions.

Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said: “The Constitutional Court’s decision actually confirms that it had been a mistake to disband the Scorpions. The increasing abuse of power in the police also requires that there should be more independence for the Hawks to investigate the police.”

Christian Democratic Party spokesperson Richard Botha said the party hoped that the ruling would force government to restore the “principles underlying the Scorpions”.

“We appeal to government not to drag feet by using the entire 18 months granted by the court to meet constitutional obligations,” he said.

The court said that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and international agreements on combating corruption, which had been approved by Parliament, required that states create independent anti-corruption entities.

It said the DPCI’s activities had to be co-ordinated by Cabinet, and that the statute provides that a ministerial committee may determine policy guidelines for the DPCI’s functioning and for the selection of national priority offences.

This made the unit vulnerable to political interference, with inadequate safeguards.

“Conditions of service of the unit’s members and in particular those applying to its head make it insufficiently independent. Members thus have inadequate employment security to carry out their duties vigorously; the appointment of members is not sufficiently shielded from political influence; and remuneration levels are flexible and not secured. These aspects make the unit vulnerable to an undue measure of political influence.”

During the Zuma investigation, the NPA was dogged by controversy and criticism.

One of its heads, Bulelani Ngcuka, eventually left after a long-standing impasse over a statement that although the NPA had prima facie evidence Zuma was guilty, it would not prosecute him.

Another NPA head Vusi Pikoli was subjected to an inquiry over whether he was fit to hold office after the unit attempted to arrest former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, who is now in the process of appealing a 15-year corruption sentence.

Although the inquiry concluded it could not find Pikoli unfit to hold office, he was fired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe.

Selebi maintained he was the victim of a plot by the Scorpions.

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