Prosecutions boss Batohi, in an update, confirms a R38 million cash injection, hiring of staff as investigative unit as operations gather steam.
After delays caused by bureaucratic wrangling and staff shortages, the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) Investigative Directorate’s work is now gathering momentum.
The unit, meant to deal with high profile corruption prosecutions and other cases, was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his state of the nation address last year.
At the time it was hailed as the replacement of the Scorpions, which was disbanded in 2007 following resolutions at the ANC elective conference in Polokwane, Limpopo.
The new unit was to tackle “serious, high-profile or complex corruption cases including, but not limited to, offences or criminal or unlawful activities arising from the following commissions and inquiries”.
However, uncertainty regarding policy guidelines, working models, budgetary constraints and a lack of clarity around secondments of staffers hampered the unit’s operations.
However, in a January 31 2020 progress report, the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi says the unit’s work is gathering pace.
It received a R38 million boost from the department of justice and the recruitment process is now underway to employ permanent investigators as well as lawyers for legal support.
The recruits will add to the unit’s 16 prosecutors and 22 investigators who were seconded from the SA Police Service, the Hawks, the police watchdog Independent Police Investigating Directorate and the Special Investigating Unit.
“The unit has been struggling to attract talent from other departments due to lack of understanding of the secondment process. Some were worried after the secondment process, their career progression would be affected,” said a senior official privy to the issue.
City Press understands that at a meeting on Friday directors-general from several departments discussed solutions to deal with the red tape affecting the unit’s full operation.
Advocate Hermione Cronje was appointed last May to prioritise cases emanating from various state enquiries and commissions such as the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
Batohi’s report also outlines efforts put in place to reinvigorate the NPA which she found in a dire state with issues of low staff morale, lack of leadership and political interference.
A staff survey she commissioned shortly after her appointment last February painted a grim picture of an institution in disarray.
The report, finalised last May by the Institute of Security Studies, also found that a quarter of prosecutors were considering quitting the NPA.
Many of them wanted to leave because of lack of promotion, budget constraints and inadequate human resources which resulted in unreasonably heavy workloads for staff.
This contributed to the low staff morale.
“Close to half of participants [43%] felt that the lack of promotion or career growth opportunities was the most dissatisfying aspect of their job. This was followed by high staff vacancies [at 28%], low staff morale and budgetary constraints [25% each]. Lack of leadership or support from managers was mentioned by nearly a quarter of participants [24%],” the report said.
Participants in the survey, most of them prosecutors, were asked for suggestions to improve their job satisfaction. They requested the NPA show greater accountability, integrity and openness, among other things.
They also wanted “better salaries and allowances, better leadership and direction, zero tolerance for corruption within NPA”, the report noted.
Shortly after she received the report, Batohi embarked on a nation-wide listening tour to gauge the feelings of the staff.
In a response to the survey, Batohi writes in the report’s foreword: “The NPA’s people have been through difficult times … political interference and erratic changes in leadership have resulted in an organisational crisis.
“This has had a real impact on staff’s operational capacity and general wellbeing.”
Batohi admits that many prosecutors work in tough and hostile environments.
“On an almost daily basis, prosecutors are confronted with deeply traumatised victims of crime, hostile criminals and, at times, belligerent lawyers.
“To succeed and survive in such an environment, we need to find strength within, from our colleagues who are there for us to provide guidance, support and a helping hand,” she writes.
Batohi also notes that at least 840 posts are currently being filled to alleviate pressure on the courts.
The high vacancy rate was caused by a budget-induced moratorium on recruitment over the last four years.
“A crucial element in the current recruitment process is that it allows for contract appointments of senior ex-prosecutors with a wealth of experience and skill, who will assist with mentoring and transfer of skills.
“New performance measures are being developed which seek to measure both the quality and efficiency of prosecutors’ work, not just numbers.
“We are also exploring the development of joint measures with our key partner, the SA Police Service,” she writes.
The NPA is also working towards the digitisation of dockets to avoid files being lost or stolen, she adds.
To deal with low staff morale, Batohi standardised the payments of performance bonuses for all staff, which she notes “worked immediately to boost staff morale”.
“This was also the NDPP’s gesture of goodwill, in recognition of the difficult environment that all staff had to work under for a long time. Many acted in senior positions with double or triple workloads, without any financial compensation.”
Senior journalist | City Press
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