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LETTER: Shamila Batohi is right to seek a ‘divorce’ from the justice department

Draft legislation was sent to parliament, the presidency and the NPA in August by Accountability Now

15 November 2021 – 15:39 https://spkt.io/e/2988566 National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi.

National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi has in effect asked for a divorce from the department of justice. She is quite right to do so. It is counterproductive that the director-general of justice is her accounting officer and that the minister has constitutional “final responsibility” over the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).      

Like the chapter 9 institutions, it should report to parliament exclusively out of respect for its independence. Indeed, the term “independence” is nothing more than legislative code for “freedom from executive and other interference and influence”. Draft legislation suggesting the terms of the “divorce” was sent to parliament, the presidency and the NPA in August 2021 by Accountability Now.

As long ago as August 2020 the national executive committee of the ANC instructed cabinet to “deal with” the corrupt in SA urgently by establishing a new permanent stand-alone entity. Nothing has been done by officialdom, leaving thoughtful observers nervous that the eight days of disorder in July 2021 (which followed the incarceration of Jacob Zuma) are but a harbinger of things to come.

What is clear to students of the dysfunction in the NPA is that the problem is not only structural but also operational.  Investigating directorate head Hermione Cronje has complained that her unit’s efforts to bring the corrupt to justice are thwarted by “saboteurs” within the ranks of the NPA. Winkling these cadres out will take years — years SA does not have to right the ship of state.

The saboteurs were put in place to protect Zuma and his cronies against being prosecuted for their corruption. It works well; the Nkandla “home improvements” corruption has been “under investigation” since 2013, when a docket was opened by Accountability Now. Requests for reports on progress go unanswered by Batohi. Open Secrets has similar experience with Batohi. Prosecuting serious corruption is beyond her reach for all practical purposes.

The NPA would do well to consider surrendering its anti-corruption mandate to a new entity that specialises in serious corruption-busting, using specialists who are properly trained and independent of saboteurs of the sort currently infesting the NPA. As the loot of state capture is estimated at R1.5-trillion, there ought to be no budget constraints on the new entity, which should enjoy secure tenure of office.

By mustering the political will to create it, parliament would at long last be giving effect to the binding decisions of our highest court in the Glenister litigation. Debating the various suggestions to do so is overdue. The issues are a stern test of parliament’s oversight functions.

Paul Hoffman, Director, Accountability Now

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