SA faces ‘failed state status’ over graft, warns SC
South Africa is staring “failed state status” in the face and urgent steps are needed to address the scourge of corruption.
This is the view of Paul Hoffman, SC, from the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, who has told the Cape Town Press Club that Parliament is simply rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking Titanic by trying to keep the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – the Hawks – in the SAPS.
In a Constitutional Court judgment handed down in businessman Hugh Glenister’s case challenging the government’s decision to shut down the Scorpions unit – which was located in the National Prosecuting Authority – MPs were given 18 months to create an anti-corruption unit that would be free of political interference.
But MPs are determined to retain the Hawks as the country’s premier corruption-busting entity – and equally determined to keep the unit in the police, despite 17 out of 18 public submissions and all opposition parties recommending otherwise. The portfolio committee on police is working on a draft law aimed at enhancing the independence of the Hawks.
But Hoffman, who represented Glenister in the groundbreaking Constitutional Court case, dismissed these efforts as “hopelessly inadequate”. He said that instead of using this opportunity to establish a truly independent and insulated corruption-fighting entity, the bill now under discussion “simply tries to do the minimum to comply with the court judgment”.
“Fighting corruption is not a part-time job. It is not something you tack on to the end of a priority crime investigative unit. It requires dedicated attention by a specialist body… (The Hawks) do all sorts of good work – going after poachers and dealing with human trafficking – but they don’t have the time for the dirty and difficult business of dealing properly with corruption.”
The advocate cited the saga of former crime intelligence boss Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli as one example of the problems units like the Hawks faced when confronted with investigations that involved well-connected and politically powerful individuals.
“Let’s face it, (General) Mdluli is an own goal right in the middle of the back of the net. The Hawks were trying to investigate him and his pals and were told to back off, leave it alone. And this matter is now being carefully hidden under the rug called the inspector-general for intelligence, who works in secrecy and silence.”
Hoffman suggested that the Hawks be left to continue investigating priority crimes, but that an entirely new commission be established – with the name The Eagles – to focus on corruption. It should be a Chapter 9 institution on the same level as, for instance, the Public Protector’s office and the auditor-general. In the modern age, the training required by anti-corruption officers “is not the type of training that you get at police college”.
“Corrupt people are usually sophisticated, intelligent, and well organised. And you don’t gain the skills to deal with them by being (a bobby on the beat).”
The Constitutional Court specifically required that whatever the anti-corruption capability the government decided on, it should be adequately resourced and sufficiently distant from the political sphere to ensure its independence. On the question of resources, Hoffman said his proposed anti-corruption commission should be granted, in law, a fixed percentage of the GDP or tax revenue.
“If politicians can turn off the taps and stand on the oxygen pipe, it’s not going to work. You have got to have guaranteed funding.”
Hoffman said the legislature’s efforts to turn the Hawks into a unit of Super-Hawks was bound to fall short of the constitution’s requirements. “Eagles fly higher, see further and go after considerably bigger prey (than Hawks).”