Scorpions' successors to start work soon

President Kgalema Motlanthe is expected to seal the fate of the Scorpions by February, following a fierce, but lost, battle by opposition political parties and much of civil society to save the elite unit.

Scorpions investigators have 30 days in which to decide their career path within the law enforcement agencies, prosecuting authorities or civil service - or consider themselves retrenched.

Motlanthe will also determine when the unit billed as being the replacement for the Scorpions, the directorate of priority crime investigation, will start working.

It will be under the command of the acting national commissioner of police.

But this will not happen before the former Scorpions and the members of the police's organised crime unit have been vetted and given security clearances by the national intelligence agency.

Motlanthe will be advised by a joint audit and implementation team of senior officials of the national prosecuting authority, of which the Scorpions were a part, and the police on the formation and operation of the new unit, including the "smooth transfer" to it of staff.

The bills to disband the Scorpions and establish the new unit are still to be processed by the National Council of Provinces but might be finalised in November.

The bills were passed by 252 votes to 63 in the National Assembly on Thursday.

Yunus Carrim, the chairperson of parliament's justice portfolio committee, said the new unit would probably begin operating early in 2009 after issues such as budgets, assets, liabilities and salaries had been agreed.

Kgoshi Mathupa Mokoena, the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces' committee on justice and constitutional affairs, said that the council would not convene more public hearings "but if there are people who want to come we will invite them".

Though most of the investigations by the police's new directorate will be referrals by the police and other state institutions, the head of the directorate will be able to initiate some investigations - but only with a tacit nod from a ministerial committee and with the approval of Parliament.

The next few weeks will determine the future of the remaining talent within the Scorpions. Some investigators have quit.

Those who decide not to be absorbed into the public service will get severance packages to be determined by Richard Baloyi, the minister of public affairs and administration.

In a speech in the National Assembly on Thursday, Enver Surty, the justice minister, told MPs that he hoped the Scorpions investigators would join the new police unit.

"Quite apart from this government's legal and constitutional obligations, the intention is to encourage to move to , as the minister of safety and security has said, and that will not be done by not transferring you to posts of similar status and expertise."

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