South Africa needs a permanent, multi-skilled unit to fight corruption - Lamola

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  • South Africa clearly needed a permanent, multi-disciplinary structure to combat corruption, said Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
  • The "fusion centre" - comprising all law enforcement agencies - should grow organically before legislation formalised it, he said.
  • Also, a "permanent home" should be found for the Zondo commission's investigators.

It is clear that South Africa needed a permanent, multi-disciplinary structure to combat corruption, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said after he was questioned about the possibility of the establishment of a Scorpions-like unit.

Lamola presented a statement on Wednesday's Cabinet meeting on Thursday evening, in which Cabinet expressed its "disappointment [with] recent reports of acts of corruption and theft of the much-needed resources that government has allocated to save lives and livelihoods during the Covid-19 pandemic".

He said government has "over the years introduced various interventions to fight against the scourge of corruption, which negatively affects the delivery of services to the poor and vulnerable".  

"The recently established special coordination centre aims to strengthen the collective efforts among law-enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute Covid-related corruption," he said.

"It comprises the Financial Intelligence Centre; Independent Police Investigative Directorate; National Prosecuting Authority; South African Police Service's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), Crime Intelligence and Detective Service; South African Revenue Service; Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the State Security Agency."

He referred to this centre as the "fusion centre".  

"Allegations of corruption being investigated include the fraudulent distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, procurement of PPE and other medical supplies, and the looting of the Unemployment Insurance Fund's Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme."

ALSO READ | Covid-19 corruption: ANC caucus 'deeply embarrassed' by 'barbaric behaviour'

Lamola also referred to President Cyril Ramaphosa's proclamation that empowered the SIU to investigate Covid-19 related corruption.

"The SIU is empowered to probe any allegations relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state and institute civil proceedings to recover any damages or losses incurred by the state," read the Cabinet statement.  

"To ensure that action is taken speedily, the President will receive interim reports on investigations every six weeks. He will also get reports from the Health Sector Anti-Corruption Forum that is tasked to investigate irregularities and maladministration in the health sector."

He also said Cabinet welcomed the amendments to the original regulations of the Zondo commission into state capture, which would now allow for the sharing of information by the commission with other law enforcement agencies.

"This will help to expedite the investigation and prosecution of corruption-related cases," he said.

Lamola was asked whether a unit like the Scorpions would be re-established, as it was reported that the ANC NEC had mooted such a move over the weekend.

Lamola said this related to the "fusion centre".

"It's clear, as a country, we need a permanent structure," he said. He said the "fusion centre" was an already existing forum of all law enforcement agencies, looking into Covid-19 related matters.

"The fusion centre should be allowed to grow organically," he said, adding there would then be legislation looked at to formalise it.

"It is a discussion that is still ongoing".

"Corruption is a sophisticated crime. So it needs collaboration, multi-disciplinary skills," Lamola said.

Lamola also said the Zondo commission's investigators were beginning to wind down their work, and that they should be looking at giving them a "permanent home".

The Scorpions, or the Directorate of Special Operations, was an anti-corruption unit housed in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) where prosecutors worked alongside investigators and forensic experts as part of a single unit.

Its disbandment was a key part of the manifesto which saw corruption-accused, former president Jacob Zuma, first elected ANC president in 2007. In 2008, the ANC saw to it that Parliament disbanded it, despite an outcry from opposition parties and civil society.

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