Scorpions vacancy rate grows

2009-03-13 14:07

Cape Town - The soon-to-be defunct Scorpions had a staff vacancy rate of 43% in their top ranks last month, Justice Minister Enver Surty said in response to a written question in Parliament on Friday.

The elite unit set up to fight organised crime lacked four prosecutors out of a full component of five and had only 53 advocates for 104 posts.

It also suffered a shortage of investigators.

On February 6, when the Democratic Alliance tabled the question on the Scorpions, there were only 292 general and special investigators working at the unit. It has positions for 432 investigators, Surty said.

The breakdown of staff levels at the Scorpions confirms statements by the National Prosecuting Authority last month that the unit had suffered a sustained exodus of staff, with senior members warning it could hamper ongoing arms deal-related investigations.

"We are losing people we cannot replace and that could really impact on one of these serious cases," Willie Hofmeyr, the deputy national director of public prosecutions, told Parliament's public accounts committee (Scopa).

"The dissolution of the DSO (Directorate of Special Operations) caused uncertainty. We are losing six people a month," he said.

The acting head of the NPA, Mokotedi Mpshe, told the committee the situation was so dire that there were only three investigators handling cases related to the arms deal and said progress was therefore slow.

Hofmeyr said 67 members of the DSO resigned over the past year, while the justice department confirmed that staff have been leaving at a rate of 5.2 per month since December 2008.

Under controversial legislation signed by President Kgalema Motlanthe earlier this year, the Scorpions will to be disbanded and assimilated into a new team fighting high-level crime - the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.

It is meant to take over the full caseload of the Scorpions but will report not to the NPA but to the police.

Surty said Motlanthe still had to proclaim a date when the DSO would cease to function and what remained of it would become part of the new unit. He said those staff members who decline a transfer, would be offered positions elsewhere within the NPA or offered severance packages.

NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali, said on Friday he could not disclose how many of the Scorpions have decided to join the new unit.

"That is part of a process that has yet to be completed. It will be done as quickly as possible but it needs to be done properly and we cannot take any shortcuts."