The NPA's reputation is in tatters - Glynnis Breytenbach

DA MP says the thread linking the manifold crises affecting the Authority is political interference (July 15)

Speech by the DA's Shadow Minister of Justice, Glynnis Breytenbach MP during the budget vote debate on Justice, Parliament, July 15 2014:

Our state institutions need to be rescued

15 July 2014

South Africa has, if not the strongest, then one of the strongest constitutional legislative frameworks in the world.  It is designed to ensure that all our citizens live in safety and security, and that everyone is equal before the law.  It is these principles that should guide the criminal justice cluster in the performance of their duties, guided always by the prescripts of the Constitution and the principle of the Rule of Law.

However, this has not been done successfully or at all, and the web of terror that crime throws over South Africa is so strong and far-reaching that every South African has been constrained by it in some way.  The lives of many committed and talented South Africans have been lost.  Many are deeply traumatised.  We have become suspicious of our fellow citizens and distrusting of the institutions that are supposed to keep us safe.

This has a negative effect on the fight against crime in general, and the fight against corruption in particular. This in turn has a disastrous effect on the economy and investment.  International investors are hesitant to invest where they believe that they may have no recourse, where they have little faith in the ability of the legal framework to offer adequate protection.  A knock-on effect is the high unemployment rate, and the inability to create jobs and employ particularly young people and young graduates. 

The 2007 Cabinet adopted a so-called seven-point plan to review and revamp the Criminal Justice System.  This, very briefly, was designed to address the most serious shortcomings of the Criminal Justice System, and was to create an effective and efficient so-called Integrated Criminal Justice System.  We now find ourselves in mid-2014, and no closer to achieving even the most modest of the goals set out in that plan.  Seven years of planning, budgeting and promises of implementation have left us nowhere.  Billions have been spent by the Department of Justice and the Criminal Justice Cluster in pursuit of these goals, with very little or nothing to show for it.

This year, again, in his overview of the proposed budget, Minister Masutha refers to these goals, how they will be pursued and achieved and how much will be spent in the pursuit thereof.  And this year, again, there can be no realistic expectation of any success in this regard.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is an important player in the Criminal Justice Cluster, and the institution upon which the achievement of these goals largely rests, is in disarray.  It has been without a permanent head for long periods, and the ensuing chaos is as a direct result of this.  Acting heads, who by their very nature are directionless, and unsuitable appointments have wreaked havoc on a once strong and dependable institution.  This is, of course, the direct result of unabashed and undisguised political meddling in the affairs of the National Prosecuting Authority, and the Criminal Justice Cluster as a whole.

The National Prosecuting Authority is an institution that should have no dirty linen to wash, let alone to be washed in public.  Yet week after week we see it lurch from one damaging scandal to the next.  Its reputation is in tatters.  It is constantly in the news, and never for the right reasons.  The public at large has no faith in the organization to fulfill even its most basic mandate, and a budget of billions annually sees no real improvement in its daily functions. Millions are wasted on litigation for poor or no reasons. 

The hapless Koki Mpshe was appointed after the inexcusable firing of Vusi Pikoli, solely to facilitate the withdrawal of the corruption and other charges against the President. The appointment of the wholly unsuitable Menzi Simelane was defended to the doors of the Constitutional Court, the equally unsuitable Nomcgobo Jiba was rushed up the corporate ladder in order to be able to replace him, and to oversee the continued stonewalling surrounding the spy tapes saga and the protection of Richard Mdluli, astonishingly even in the face of various court judgements.  Under pressure from various sources, the President, having had plenty of time to apply his mind, appointed Mxolisi Nxasana, only to institute an enquiry into his fitness to hold office ten months later, and only after he called for the spy tapes and related documents and re-instituted the charges against Richard Mdluli.  It takes no great amount of intelligence to glean the golden thread in this sad tale. 

The only sensible thing to do now is for the President to widen the still to be announced terms of reference of the Commission to include an enquiry into the behaviour of other senior managers, notably Adv Jiba and Adv Mrwebi.  Both were severely criticized in judgements in the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal. The top structure of the National Prosecuting Authority needs to be cleaned out so that those who remain can get on with the core business of the organization.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has not fared much better than the National Prosecuting Authority.  Beset by leadership issues the Special Investigating Unit has largely failed to fulfill its proclaimed goals, despite a year on year increase in its budget.  Many investigations have dragged on for years, and appear to be nowhere near completion.  The Bosasa matter has been live for more than 5 years now, still with no end in sight, and the Head, Adv Soni, admitted last week before the Portfolio Committee that he could give no indication as to when the Nkandla investigation and report would be finalized and placed before the President. 

Despite the importance of and public interest in the matter, the Special Investigating Unit only managed to gain access to the premises at Nkandla on 3 July 2014.  Adv Soni declined to say who was responsible for the delay, despite the parties involved being legally obliged to co-operate with him.  Given the profile of this matter, and the obvious importance and pressure to finalize it, no real progress could be demonstrated, and certainly no will to drive the matter was discernible.

The current presentation before the Portfolio Committee reveals an enormous decrease in cases expected to be finalized, but despite this the Special Investigating Unit felt comfortable to approach Parliament and request an increased budget in order to meet its significantly decreased goals.  There can be very little confidence that even these modest goals will be met.  Again we see an important component in the Criminal Justice Cluster being reduced to a somewhat embarrassing ineffectiveness due to overt political meddling.

The office of the public protector is a chapter 9 institution and an independent body reporting to Parliament, whose mandate is being followed and fulfilled, but is clearly under fire due to the independence being exhibited.  The Public Protector herself is vilified, accused of overreaching her mandate, accused of playing politics and the target of severe personal criticism from certain limited sources, simply because she refuses to bow to political pressure and refuses to allow political interference in the institution, which derives its independence from the Constitution. 

Again, the thread of political interference in these institutions is glaring, and the attack on the independence of the Criminal Justice Cluster is palpable.

No amount of budget increases will fix this.  No amount of money is going to make these institutions effective in the face of such interference.  The interference must stop.  And it is our duty, the duty of this fifth Parliament, to all those citizens who voted for us to sit here, to make it stop, and to work towards making the Criminal Justice Cluster effective and efficient, in order to fulfill the role it is enjoined to fill by the Constitution.  If we allow the Rule of Law to be eroded any further, we will find it impossible to regain the lost ground.

The great Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: " in keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future.  When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations."  

We are tired. We want justice now. Sikathele manje. Sifuna ukulunga.

Issued by the DA, July 15 2014

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter