Commissioner to decide fate of Scorpions

By Angela Quintal

The fate of the elite crime-busting unit the Scorpions is to be determined by a soon-to-be appointed commissioner, according to President Thabo Mbeki.

In an interview with the SABC on Sunday night, Mbeki was reminded about his comment in 2003, in which he noted that there were inherent structural tensions between the Scorpions, who fell under the National Prosecuting Authority and accounted to the justice minister, and the police, who were accountable to the safety and security minister.

The Scorpions have come under pressure for the past three years for their style of working.

Several high-profile individuals investigated by the Scorpions, including Deputy President Jacob Zuma, have lodged complaints against them with Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana. Concerns have also been raised that the unit is developing an intelligence-gathering capacity that does not fall under established oversight mechanisms.

More recently, a high-profile row between the police and the Scorpions has played out in the media, with tensions at a new high.

Mbeki said a ministerial committee - set up under the National Prosecuting Authority Act with oversight over the Scorpions - had been looking into the matter.

South Africa had borrowed from the FBI model in the US, where police investigators formed part of the prosecuting authority.

"The committee has been looking at that and the decision is that we need a commissioner to have a close look at this matter again," the president said.

Mbeki said he hoped the "commissioner" would be appointed soon.

He said the question that needed to be answered was whether a police unit that fell under prosecutors worked well, and what its relationship was with the South African Police Service and the intelligence services.

The commissioner would have to look at a "totality of matters" and make a recommendation on the way forward.

It was not clear whether the commissioner would be appointed from within government, or would be an independent person such as a judge.

Presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo said this would be the prerogative of Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla, who would consult her ministerial committee colleagues.

Further details, including the terms of reference and the timetable for the investigation, would be announced soon by Mabandla.

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