Mandy Wiener

Mandy Wiener: Bathohi’s first year could have been better, but it's not bad

2020-02-04 08:00
NPA boss Shamila Batohi. (Daily Sun, file)

NPA boss Shamila Batohi. (Daily Sun, file)

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A large part of Batohi’s job has been about winning over the public and restoring confidence in the organisation. It is about the optics. Her media strategy has been questionable, creating the impression that she is overwhelmed, writes Mandy Wiener 

If you take the public temperature on how Shamila Batohi has done during her first year in charge of the National Prosecuting Authority, you will likely find little sympathy for her.

I see it in the responses every time I talk, write or tweet about the National Prosecuting Authority.

There's an insatiable appetite for high profile, grand scale corruption prosecutions and as long as those don't come before court, the impression is that there is no improvement at the organisation.

But let's take a more measured and considered assessment of how Batohi has done during her first year since becoming NDPP in February 2019.

Wins

· Like Eskom, SARS and other state institutions ravaged by state capture, we knew it was bad but we didn't have a full grasp of just how bad it was. What Shamila Batohi found when she arrived at the NPA was far worse than what she anticipated. She has been at pains to tell us this and to tell her staff this - we and they are tired of hearing it.

But, she has to keep reminding us so we can fully grasp the extent of the job at hand for her and her team. It is unrealistic to expect an immediate turnaround.

The fix will take time and it started happening. The 20% vacancy rate is being tackled, prosecutors are being hired and measures are being put in place to ensure the institution is not captured again. All of this doesn't happen overnight.

· One of the major relics of the capture of the NPA was the division sewed by former deputies Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi. Batohi has been successful in restoring authority and leadership to a divided organisation to a large degree.

However, she is still facing enormous resistence from those loyal to the state capture project from within. Jiba and Mrwebi may be gone, but the challenge of this force can’t be underestimated and she is going to face further attacks to her credibility and authority.

· Arguably the biggest victory of the past year has been Batohi's efforts to get more money for the NPA to recruit more highly skilled staff and to promote those already there.

She has been able to increase the budget by R1.3 billion.

This money was desperately needed to attract capacity and to rebuild specialised units. Batohi put together a carefully crafted argument to motivate for this money and it paid off.

She's also working to ensure the historic problem of independence from the Justice Department is finally being dealt with so that in future she can negotiate the NPA's budget.

· The Independent Directorate under advocate Hermione Cronje is finally rolling. After a sluggish start, the ID appears to be resourced and in full swing with investigations.

There was concern about a rift between the ID and Hawks and a lack of capacity to carry out the complex investigations. But with the help of some civil society organisations and independent senior counsel who have been roped in, the work is happening behind the scenes although it's difficult to get a sense of just how close they are to their first big prosecution.

Since Batohi arrived, there have been high level arrests and trials such as that of Ethikweni mayor Zandile Gumede, ex-Minister Bongani Bongo, senior Eskom managers and former prisons boss Linda Mti and Bosasa's Angelo Agrizzi. More are expected to come.

Losses

· There are still no big name state capture prosecutions.

By "big name" I mean the state capture enablers, the Gupta brothers, the corrupt Ministers, Eskom, Estina, VBS bank, Steinhoff etc.

As long as this doesn't happen and the media and inquiries continue to expose the large scale looting at State Owned Entities, there will be frustration at the lack of accountability. Justice not only needs to be done, it needs to be seen to be done and there are enormous expectations for not just prosecutions but also convictions.

However, Batohi would like there to be more weight attached to the restoration of the organisation as a whole and strengthening the foundations of our constitutional democracy, than a focus on a handful of high-profile cases.

· As Batohi navigates treacherous territory littered with political landmines, she has found herself isolated. According to insiders, she is distrustful of those she found within the organisation.

This has impacted on the morale within the organisation as she is distant and aloof. Compounding this is the fact that several of the provincial Directors of Public Prosecutions are either in acting positions or are in her sights as she is moving to oust them.

Similarly, there are still vacancies among her deputies – she has not officially appointed replacements for Willie Hofmeyer, Jiba and Mrwebi. The sense is that she just doesn’t know who to trust.

She was recently photographed lunching with former NDPP Vusi Pikoli who knows more than a thing or 10 about politics within the NPA so hopefully he gave her a road map to deal with that.

 · Batohi is facing a backlash from her Deputy Directors of Public Prosecutions - the very senior managers she needed to build loyalty, to mentor junior prosecutors and who are necessary to deal with complex state capture cases.

This is because of her decision to oppose and appeal the implementation of Occupational Specific Dispensation for Deputy Directors. This is an old fight, one which she inherited, but had a golden opportunity to correct. 

By appealing the High Court decision to pay them more, she has alienated them. This means that in many cases, Deputy Directors are actually earning less than their subordinates which leads to all kinds of problems.

It would have cost her more money, but it would have been worth it to retain their expertise and institutional memory.

 · A large part of Batohi’s job has been about winning over the public and restoring confidence in the organisation. It is about the optics. Her media strategy has been questionable, creating the impression that she is overwhelmed.

Since taking office she has given two live interviews on morning TV shows, a couple of press conferences and the odd scripted speeches.

Gatekeepers have prevented her from doing any substantial sit down interviews despite numerous requests. Although there is something to be said for the Robert Mueller never say anything in public approach, Batohi could benefit from taking journalists into her confidence and by extension the broader public.

Our mandate is not solely to criticise and to hold power to account - a deeper understanding of nuance and challenges within could assist us with more responsible and constructive reporting.

The successes achieved over the past year are not being properly communicated, allowing the skepticism and doubt to cloud public perception.

Overall, Batohi's first year could have been far worse and also a little better depending on what your gauge is. For the first time in a decade, there is a sense that there is a leader at the NPA who is not pursuing a personal or political agenda and that her intentions are noble.

She is determined to achieve a turn around, but is finding it enormously difficult to do so. She deserves more empathy and patience but she also knows that the clock is ticking and time is running out.

It does not matter how successful she is in restoring the organisation and rebuilding constitutional democracy for all South Africans - until those high profile prosecutions come and they result in convictions, none of it will be good enough. The expectation could not be greater.


Read more on:    npa  |  shamila batohi  |  justice  |  state capture  |  law
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