Menzi Simelane. Photo: Boxer Ngwenya

The National Prosecuting Authority has blamed its embattled boss Menzi Simelane’s drastic organisational changes for the decline in convictions, particularly in complex commercial crimes.

As a result, the NPA is now reverting to its old organisational structure and reintroducing the regional heads of Specialised Commercial Crime units.

Last week Justice Minister Jeff Radebe announced that while the conviction rate remained at 88.8 percent, there were 12 031 fewer cases finalised by the NPA in 2011/12 than the previous year.

Simelane is on special leave pending the finalisation of a court challenge over his fitness for office. The Constitutional Court has yet to deliver judgment in the matter. Advocate Nomgcobo Jiba is now acting as head of the NPA.

After taking over as national director for public prosecutions, Simelane had placed all general and specialised prosecutions under one office, which led to problems of accountability and output.

“The public prosecutions scenario also meant that the directors of public prosecutions (in the provinces) had overall jurisdiction over all prosecutions in their regions and did away with the regional heads of the specialised units such as the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit,” NPA spokeswoman Bulelwa Makeke said in response to questions from The Sunday Independent.

“The organisation’s performance on prosecutions and conviction rates on complex commercial crimes was adversely affected by the changes, because of the loss of specific focus on such crimes,” she said.

The decision to revert to the old organisational structure was taken at a summit attended by senior management in the NPA in April and was reported to Parliament.

The national assembly portfolio committee for justice and constitutional development said in a recent report on the Justice Department’s budget vote that it “is alarmed at the report of declining performance, which is supported by statistics…

“A key recommendation that emerged was that the structural changes that were introduced by Advocate Simelane had adversely affected the NPA’s performance,” the committee’s report says.

The committee also noted that the number of cases concluded by the commercial crime unit had declined from 960 in 2009/10 to 742 in 2010/11.

The NPA does not have enough staff and is not likely to hire any new prosecutors in this financial year.

Twelve percent of vacancies have not been filled, which the portfolio committee is “gravely concerned” about.

“(The committee) fears that without the necessary prosecutors a further decline in performance will result.”

The NPA’s budget increased by six percent from R2.6bn to R2.8bn – R2bn of which goes to public prosecutions.

The NPA underestimated the true cost of the revised salary structure which took effect in 2009, leading to its current funding problems.

“The committee is unclear whether the problem that the NPA faces with regard to (revised salaries) is a symptom of historical poor planning on its part or whether there is a continued complacency on the part of management,” the report says.

The committee said it would monitor the NPA’s spending trends on a quarterly basis and wants a comprehensive report on existing vacancies and the impact of the budget shortfall on recruitment by July.

Makeke said the NPA was concerned about the vacancy rate of prosecutors.

“The organisation must prioritise certain vacancies above others for filling, depending on where the most dire need is. The priority is to capacitate the lower courts. Management of the vacancy rate also entails not filling every vacancy that occurs, but to improve on optimal resource allocation and management,” she said.

Makeke said other factors such as judicial case flow management also affected the finalisation of cases. Simelane refused to comment.

Sunday Independent