Parliamentary spy politics not all storm and stress

2012-03-10 13:05

Parliament’s portfolio committee on police should be proud of itself. In one memorable hour this week, it showed that the high drama of spy politics and political interference into criminal investigations had a lighter side.

What started out as a straightforward briefing by the police secretariat on the new Hawks bill ended with chairperson Lydia Chikunga pleading with members of the committee not to “deteriorate” to a level of anything other than “Honourable Members”.

The DA’s “Honourable Dianne”, as Chikunga called Dianne Kohler-Barnard, kicked off the spat when she wondered aloud how the same legal team that had drawn up the old, unconstitutional Hawks bill was also responsible for the new one.

After a war of words with the Honourable Annelize (van Wyk, ANC), the Honourable (Pieter) Groenewald (FF+) weighed in, telling Chikunga that the committee’s behaviour would, in Afrikaans, be compared to that of a “family of cats”, fighting and making out together.

“Hulle vry en hulle baklei tegelyk – but I don’t vry with her,” he said.

Over hysterical giggling from the “terrible twins” – the Honourable (Velaphi) Ndlovu (IFP) and the Honourable (Mluleki) George (Cope) – Kohler-Barnard sniffily expressed her hope, as a “point of order”, that the committee would not again find itself passing unconstitutional legislation.

“The old bill was bludgeoned through this committee despite all our objections and it was thrown out by the Constitutional Court,” she said.

Whether her hope will be realised remains to be seen, as there is still a long process of public participation that needs to be finalised by September.

It seems unlikely that businessman Hugh Glenister, who brought the application to the Constitutional Court, will achieve a crime-fighting unit as independent as the Scorpions.

The heady days of their gleeful, high-level corruption investigations are long gone.

Jenny Irish-Qhobosheane, head of the police secretariat, argued that the Constitutional Court did not require a reversion to the Scorpions or a separate independent chapter 9 institution.

Although Glenister and his lawyer, Paul Hoffman, warned that they would return to court if the Hawks remained located in the police, Glenister’s well-publicised Constitutional Court victory really could have gone either way. A “shell-shocked” Glenister acknowledged as much after the judgment, when he said that he had “not really expected the decision”.

Four Constitutional Court justices found in favour of President Jacob Zuma and five in favour of Glenister. Just one could have changed the outcome.

The amendments to the bill, including more power for Parliament and the head of the Hawks, may just be enough to tip the bill over the constitutional line.

The spat in the portfolio committee – as well as a public campaign being planned by Glenister and various NGOs – really only represents one thing: a last-ditch attempt by those without executive power to get their way.

The ANC has shown that the political will that once drove the Scorpions has gone. Bulelani Ngcuka, former prosecuting boss of a government that seemed soft on organised crime and corruption, praised the Scorpions for their “sophistication, professionalism and organisational mettle by taking on some of the market leaders in crime”.

He called these leaders “the big players who believe they can defraud, smuggle, murder, deceive, threaten and corrupt with impunity”.

This was a far cry from the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane resolution, which found it a “constitutional imperative that there be a single police service”.

And while the Scorpions were disbanded shortly after Zuma came into office in 2009, the other resolution adopted by the ANC – placing traffic and metro police under the SAPS – remains unfulfilled.

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