Too fit for office

2008-12-10 00:00

The findings of the Ginwala Commission, set up in September last year by the then president Thabo Mbeki, are that government had failed to show that suspended head of the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) Vusi Pikoli is unfit for office. Dr Frene Ginwala actually endorsed Pikoli’s character, indicating that he is a person of unimpeachable integrity and a man ideally suited to the running of a prosecutorial authority.

Observers may have expected President Kgalema Motlanthe to have welcomed this news and reinstated Pikoli immediately, delighted to be able to restore the NPA’s vigour and effectiveness. They will have been disappointed. For Motlanthe, saying that he’d taken the decision “with a clear conscience”, sacked Pikoli, adding that it would be “illogical” to retain him in the post — this with the veiled suggestion that he lacked the “sensitivity” to deal with matters of national security.

Opposition parties were quick to accuse Motlanthe of a cover-up, of wishing to replace Pikoli with someone who would toe the African National Congress party line on the prosecution of ANC president Jacob Zuma, on the dubious activities of suspended police chief Jackie Selebi, on the allegations of massive corruption associated with the arms deal — that giant dirty deal that simply won’t go away. Of course every government — indeed every organisation — has a need for privacy on certain issues, but in a democracy it’s essential that matters of secrecy be kept to a minimum, and that there is genuine respect for openness and the public’s right to information.

The association of Pikoli’s firing with references to national security leads one to conclude that the government knows it has much to hide from the public and will go to great lengths to keep this information hidden: in other words, it’s happy to continue to erode freedom of information and expression in the interest of concealing its own misdeeds, a process which has already crept too far over us for comfort.

The pity of it all is that Pikoli’s dismissal dashes the hopes of those who welcomed Motlanthe as an honourable man with (unlike Mbeki and Zuma) an unblemished record: a good choice as acting president, perhaps even a better choice following next year’s election. In failing this first test of his presidency he’s revealed himself as a mere apparatchik, a stopgap for whom loyalty to a political party outweighs the principles that underpin democracy

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