Vusi Pikoli said the way he was offered the national director of public prosecutions job he never applied for by former President Thabo Mbeki was wrong.
He spoke about the political interference that followed his appointment and subsequent dismissal when he would not budge.
Pikoli used his own anecdote in support of a new public awareness campaign spearheaded by Corruption Watch and the Institute of Security Studies demanding a transparent selection process similar to that used in appointing judges and the Public Protector in the selection of the new police national commissioner and head of the Hawks.
The two organisations are calling for the appointment of a “competent, honest and experienced person to head the [police] and the special investigation unit, the Hawks” adding this “would solve the long-standing crisis in police management and the resulting deterioration in public safety over the past five years”.
The campaign was officially launched at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg earlier today.
Pikoli agreed with organisers that this was not aimed at weakening President Jacob Zuma’s arm in making appointments as dictated in the Constitution.
“We’re not saying take away the power of the president to appoint; we’re saying it must be open and transparent. We have had eight national police commissioners and, ironically, eight directors of public prosecutions (since the dawn of democracy); clearly there is a problem,” Pikoli said.
He said he was leaving his gym when he received a call from Mbeki summoning him to his official Pretoria residence, Mahlamba Ndlopfu, the following day. Pikoli was the director-general for justice and constitutional development at the time.
“It was a call from out of the blue ... the president said: ‘Where are you, can I see you tomorrow?’
“Of course I could not say no. [The following day] the president said to me: ‘[Deputy President] Kgalema [Motlanthe] and I want you to go to the National Prosecuting Authority. I was shocked and thought: ‘Is this how an important appointment should be made?’”
Pikoli added that, at the time, people saw his appointment as an ANC member as “cadre deployment”.
Things, however, fell apart when he refused to be lenient on Mbeki ally, former police boss Jackie Selebi, whom he was intending to investigate and prosecute. For this, he lost his job.
Pikoli believed things would not have gone that far if those holding key positions were allowed to be independent and their appointments were based on merit.
The head of the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, Gareth Newham, said it was time for change.
“The secretive way in which the president chooses South Africa’s top police officer is clearly not working. We need clear and sensible criteria for assessing candidates and a transparent process to appoint a police officer with the right credentials and integrity to lead the South African Police Service,” he said.
Executive director of Corruption Watch, David Lewis, said the current process of appointing police bosses had failed and led to the guilty using their links to the highly placed politicians as get-out-of-jail-free cards.
“Years of incompetence and corruption in the senior leadership of the SAPS have allowed wealthy and politically connected individuals in South Africa to get away with corruption. This campaign aims to address the problem. With sufficient public support, it could be a game changer in the battle against corruption,” he said.
Lewis said the campaign was advocating for the appointment of “honest” through a public and transparent process. Just like things are done in the appointment of judges among others, he said parliamentarians should get involved, positions advertised and interviews held publicly before the president can decide based on recommended candidates.
“We can’t change the Constitution. The president will still have the final say,” he said.