Bring back the Scorpions

Newly-appointed NDPP Advocate Shamila Batohi. (PHOTO: Reuters)
Newly-appointed NDPP Advocate Shamila Batohi. (PHOTO: Reuters)

This is the ideal time for President Cyril Ramaphosa to show the "new dawn" is not just a cute campaign slogan that will disappear after May 2019, writes Adriaan Basson.

I have some free, unsolicited advice for President Cyril Ramaphosa on something tangible that will give the ANC's election campaign the carrot-and-beetroot shot it so desperately needs after another week of devastating evidence before the Zondo commission.

Bring back the Scorpions.

If the depth of our corruption problem wasn't abundantly clear to Ramaphosa and the non-criminals in the ANC before the advent of Judge Raymond Zondo's fascinating inquiry into state capture, it must now be brutally obvious to them what should be done as a matter of urgency.

READ: Thanks for the NPA. Here's what else needs to happen in 2019

With Ramaphosa desperately trying to unlink himself and the "new dawn" ANC from the lost decade under Jacob Zuma (and before), the party needs something very tangible to show its commitment to fight corruption doesn't stop with another beautifully hosted anti-corruption summit.

Let me spell it out: alleged state capturers like the Guptas and the Watsons and their enablers in the ANC, government and business must be arrested, prosecuted and jailed. Nothing more, nothing less.

These trials should be live-streamed for the nation to see who chowed the money that was supposed to build schools, hospitals and toilets. They should be publicly shamed; their assets confiscated and auctioned off by the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

Ramaphosa and his new prosecutions chief, Advocate Shamila Batohi, who starts at the troubled National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Friday, have a golden opportunity to turn the tide on the endemic corruption that infests our body politic.

Batohi will have her hands full to restore confidence and morale at the NPA. With Zondo just having heard evidence that very senior prosecutors were allegedly bribed to help Bosasa get away with state capture and corruption, Batohi would probably want a complete overhaul of her top structure to rebuild the organisation.

To turn the tide on corruption, Batohi will need a dedicated team of prosecutors, investigators and analysts she can trust to work exclusively on cases of grand corruption and state capture, like Bosasa and the Zuptas. There are many more Bosasas that will hopefully be revealed before Zondo.

ALSO READ: Mandy Wiener - Justice must be seen to be done in state capture cases

The NPA Act still allows for the establishment of investigating directorates by the president through proclamation – something Batohi alluded to during her interview for the national director's position. This is the ideal time for Ramaphosa to show the "new dawn" is not just a cute campaign slogan that will disappear after May 2019.

The Scorpions, or the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), was a creation of the NPA Act to allow the prosecuting authority to conduct focussed investigations into organised crime from outside the police.

This is an international best-practice model where it has been proven that the state has more success in court when complex, commercial crime investigations were prosecutor-led from the start. The Scorpions carefully picked their cases and had a conviction rate of over 80%.

The Zuma-ANC, punch-drunk from its convincing victory at Polokwane, decided to do away with the Scorpions. Officially, the ANC argued that all policing functions should reside under the SAPS, but the real reason for shutting down the Scorpions was that it came too close to the powers that were.

In fact, the Zuma and Jackie Selebi investigations united the Zuma and Mbeki factions in the ANC through their collective hatred of the Scorpions.

Both the Khampepe Commission and Constitutional Court found there was nothing legally to prohibit the existence of the unit.

In fact, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Hawks was not sufficiently insulated from political interference; something that Berning Ntlemeza so magnificently embodied.

That Hawks has had limited success in fighting corruption. The unit is responsible for investigating all serious and violent crimes, including corruption, fraud and money-laundering. As a signatory to the United Nations convention against corruption, South Africa is required to have a dedicated, anti-corruption unit.

We currently don't have one.

The Scorpions wasn't without fault, but which international crime-fighting body is? Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the ANC should have identified structural flaws and could have fixed them internally.

Last week's withdrawal of corruption charges against Duduzane Zuma (after a similar fate befell the Estina case) and Angelo Agrizzi's evidence about rampant corruption in government, including the NPA, should be more than enough evidence for Ramaphosa to reconsider the ANC's 2008 stance on the Scorpions.

If he doesn't take the lead in this regard, it may just be a couple of weeks before Batohi does it for him.

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