State capture: 'Putting pressure on NPA amounts to interference' - Lamola

2019-07-02 06:04
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola during a visit to the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court. (Sesona Ngqakamba, News24)

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola during a visit to the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court. (Sesona Ngqakamba, News24)

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Justice Minister Ronald Lamola says if he is to put pressure on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to make arrests in state capture cases, it will be tantamount to political interference.

He insists prosecutors must be guided by the evidence before them in taking decisions on who and when to charge.

In a wide-ranging interview with News24 on Monday, the recently appointed minister stressed the independence of the NPA.

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Political interference at the NPA has been a concern over the past decade and the issue of whether the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) is accountable to the minister was a key topic at the Ginwala inquiry. 

"The independence of the NPA is not a matter of debate. It's not in question. The Constitution is clear," Lamola insists.

"Maybe you can speak about the issue of accountability in Parliament but that does not change the fact that the NPA, in terms of prosecutorial mandate as defined by the NPA Act, it has to do so without fear, favour or prejudice. And the president has also said that on many occasions. The act is clear, the Constitution is clear, what is our role is to create a framework, which we have done."

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Lamola says he cannot tell NDPP advocate Shamila Batohi to hurry up and prosecute state capture cases in order to boost public confidence in the rule of law.

"If I put pressure on the NPA to start arresting people, it will be political interference. They need to be guided by the evidence before them and decide whether they want to prosecute or not.

"If I say you must go and deal with this matters at the state capture [inquiry], it might also be self-defeating for us, because in the next appearance the person is going to say: 'No, I am not arrested on the basis of evidence before the NPA, I'm arrested because the NPA has been put under pressure by the minister'… There is no law that says I can instruct advocate Batohi on matters of prosecution. The NPA Act is clear on who has got the final say on who must be prosecuted or not."

"The NPA must look at the evidence before them. I hear even the chairperson of the Zondo commission saying there is nothing that stops any law enforcement agency from taking the evidence that has come before the commission and use it for whatever purpose the law allows them to do.

"But obviously from our perspective, and it's clear, we want to see the Zondo commission having a life of its own, doing its job, finishing its job without any interference and then making recommendations to the president."

R37m boost for prosecutors

The justice minister says that while he is worried about the damage that has been done to the NPA, the challenges are not insurmountable. He adds that the organisation is busy rebuilding and he is giving it whatever support is required.

"From the department, we are giving it all the support it needs. We are looking at the fact that the budget, also in terms of it appointing some of the vacancies, has been cut a bit, so we are also looking at giving it that support.

"Already we have found some R37m that will be able to help it before the next medium-term budget framework."

That money will go toward appointing prosecutors because: "It needs to human resource to be able to do their job."

Lamola says he is also unaware of any blockages in the system or problems in getting appointments through.

"Any challenges that it faces we are giving it support, we are creating an enabling environment for the NPA to function without fear, favour or prejudice. Obviously issues of the budget, unfortunately some of them are beyond our handling.

"Their budgetary needs are huge and the fiscus is constrained, we are just able to do with what we are able to do. It's important that the environment is created for them to function."

Stolen money back into the fiscus

Lamola is looking to the new special investigating unit (SIU) special tribunal to act quickly and recover funds stolen from the state.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the tribunal in February. It is aimed at expediting civil claims arising from SIU investigations. This would allow the fast-tracking of recovering money stolen from state-owned institutions.

"It needs to start operating as quickly as possible. The president has set us a date that it must be operational in the next three months. So we need to promulgate regulations, we need to see it starting, it will operate from Booysens.

"It has already appointed the head of the tribunal and some people for the tribunal and it will be ready to function and follow the money that might have been taken illegally.

"It will be able to follow the money that has been stolen from all state-owned entities across the country. If it goes to the tribunal it expedites the process, it means the money can be followed as quickly as possible and can be brought back to the fiscus," says the minister.

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Read more on:    npa  |  ronald lamola  |  shamila batohi  |  state capture
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