It is now, at long last, official. Anwa Dramat, the head of the Hawks, or to give them their statutory name, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, has, according to the National Commissioner of Police “resigned” from the police and as the leader of the unit which, in constitutional terms, is meant to be adequately independent to prevent and combat corruption effectively and without fear, favour or prejudice.
The disentanglement follows the highly contested suspension of Dramat just before Christmas in 2014 on the stated grounds of his alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of Zimbabwe citizens to the police of that country back in 2010. Some of the unfortunate persons involved were allegedly promptly killed by the Zimbabwean police. These are serious allegations which fully justify a procedurally sound suspension and a proper investigation as to whether criminal charges, let alone a discharge in disgrace from the police service, are indicated for all policemen who perpetrated the rendition or participated in covering up its existence.
The criminality of rendition and its negative impact upon the human rights of those involved are beyond debate. Freedom from torture, security of the person, freedom of movement and the rights to life and dignity of the victims of rendition are in short supply when this underhand form of activity, popular in the United States with its terrifying “war on terror”, is resorted to by the security authorities in any country. If the head of the Hawks is genuinely implicated, it amounts to a serious breach of the probity and integrity which ought to inform the combatting of corruption at all levels in the public administration in general and in the police in particular.
The Minister of Police, Nathi Nhleko, was so adamant about the need to suspend Dramat that when the courts ruled his December suspension of Dramat invalid on technical and procedural grounds, he put Dramat on special leave and kept him well away from his office in Pretoria. Dramat continued to languish on suspension on full pay until his “resignation” was reported to parliament in April.
The relevant announcement is vague and opaque. There is no clarity about the terms and conditions upon which this senior public servant parted ways with the public service. Nor are beleaguered taxpayers informed of what this will cost them. Nor is there any news about the fate of the possible criminal charges against Dramat and his alleged cronies in the illegal renditions. There is just a murky silence and an apparent invocation of “confidentiality”. This won’t do. The public administration is meant to be transparently accountable, and it is meant to promote efficient, economic and effective use of resources. This includes human resources. The police are part of the public administration. It is fundamental to the new order in SA that openness, accountability and responsiveness should inform the way in which the state is governed.
It is no small matter to suspend, hold on special leave and then have the head of the anti-corruption entity of state “resign” in the type of circumstances sketched above. The allegations of involvement in rendition have been in the public domain for years. Yet, the allegations and have never troubled either the executive or the legislature (the latter through the police portfolio committee of the national assembly). Even the national prosecuting authority has done nothing pro-active about them.
It is possible that all this is so because the minister’s predecessor, the parliamentary committee and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate have taken the allegations of criminality against Dramat with a large pinch of salt. After all, the final report of IPID into the matter clearly states that Dramat and his colleagues were not in fact involved in the alleged renditions. However an earlier report, from the same source, apparently a draft, does suggest complicity on their part. This is the hook on which the minister hung the suspension of Dramat. Now, the public is never going to know where the truth lies unless the criminal and disciplinary steps, against a host of highly placed functionaries in SAPS, IPID and the NPA, apparently recommended in the Werksmans’ Attorneys report into the matter, are acted on after acceptance. This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Not only ought the head of the Hawks to be empowered to act without fear, favour or prejudice, he ought to lead a properly resourced unit with the type of security of tenure of office that is of such a nature that the manoeuvring evident so far is not possible. This restriction of executive power has arisen because the Constitutional Court has repeatedly ruled against the government and in favour of those impugning the constitutionality of the legislation which gave birth to the Hawks as successor to the disbanded Scorpions. In so ruling it has held that the executive branch of government ought not to be allowed to behave as the minister has behaved in this instance. Hence the adverse court findings. The suspension of as important a person as the head of the Hawks ought properly to be preceded by the intervention of our multi-party parliament, to ensure that executive action is modulated and restrained, not wild and unchecked.
There are those who say that the suspension of Dramat had nothing to do with the alleged renditions and everything to do with his request to the police that their dockets relating to the goings on at Nkandla be given to the Hawks for further investigation on an independent basis that is foreign to the way in which the police at present operate.
Dramat’s alleged request came shortly after the Constitutional Court expanded the powers of the head of the Hawks. Until this ruling, the police retained the Nkandla dockets for investigation despite the fact that the possibility of corruption looms large in the allegations they contain. Amplification is set out in the detailed report of the Public Protector into the security enhancements at Nkandla. There are three complainants, all of whom invoke the report to a lesser or greater degree. They are the DA, the EFF and Accountability Now. Interestingly, when the Accountability Now complaint was laid in Cape Town it was accompanied by two more; one against then minister Dinah Pule, and one against Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. The complaints against these ministers have languished in the hands of the Hawks since December 2013, but those relating to Nkandla (the DA and EFF complained in March 2014) have remained firmly in the grip of the police detectives since they were laid.
Dramat’s request for the docket did not land well with the cabinet. The desire to protect “number one” against any attack by all and sundry is well known.
Another reason for the antipathy toward Dramat, an MK veteran, Robben Island prisoner and self-confessed deployed cadre of the ANC, is his most uncadre-like refusal to dismiss General Johan Booysen, the head of the Hawks in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Booysen is a thorn in the flesh to the corrupt in that corner of the country. He has been given a clean bill of health by the courts and by a disciplinary inquiry presided over by Adv Nazier Cassim SC who expressly found that Booysen should be allowed to return to work to do what he does best. This is apparently unacceptable to the police hierarchy and to the cabinet. A judicial review of Cassim’s decision has become bogged down by the tardiness of the applicants in making the record available. This step has the effect of making the evidence given by the national commission of police, criticised by Cassim, available for public scrutiny. The stratagem of replacing Dramat with a more malleable successor is said by some to be the motivation for his suspension and the route to getting rid of the pesky Booysen thereby bringing the embarrassing review to an end. Weary of his persecuted lot, Booysen has sued the state for damages in the sum of R10 million. To his credit he has not quit.
The only glimmer of light in this dark and salutary tale is that Francis Antonie, the director of the Helen Suzman Foundation, has expressed his displeasure with the situation that has unfolded. The foundation took the suspension of Dramat to court with resounding success and may well find reason to do likewise in respect of his “resignation”. If, as has been suggested by the DA’s indomitable Dianne Kohler-Barnard MP, the resignation is in fact a disguised retrenchment worth R27 million then it is inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid because it infringes the necessary security of tenure of office requirement of the law that clothes the head of the Hawks with the necessary independence. If the deal struck involves the abandonment of the investigation for involvement in the renditions, it will not sit well with the Werksmans’ recommendations.
Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now.
3 May 2015.