‘Keep corruption busters out of SAPS’
Deon de Lange
SA’s corruption-busting capabilities should be removed from the SAPS and restructured as an independent body which can investigate graft at the highest levels without fear, favour or political meddling. This was the thrust of argument in Parliament’s police committee yesterday.
Proposed amendments to the SAPS Act were discussed and interested parties made oral presentations.
The Constitutional Court found in March last year that parts of the law were inconsistent with the constitution, and therefore “invalid”.
It found that chapter six of the Act – which replaced the Scorpions (then under the National Prosecuting Authority) with the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (or the Hawks, currently within the SAPS) – failed to secure an “adequate degree of independence” for the unit. Parliament was given 18 months to rectify the problem.
The bill now under consideration reveals that the government chose to address the shortcomings by tweaking the Hawks – and keeping them within the SAPS – and not, as many have suggested, by creating a separate anti-corruption body.
In fact, 20 out of 21 written submissions handed to the police committee by experts in law, the constitution, policing and legislative matters, all agreed that the bill did not go far enough to ensure the unit’s protection from political interference.
Only one submission, from Professor Mtende Mhango at Wits School of Law, argued that the current draft was adequate in this regard.
UCT’s Professor Pierre de Vos, a constitutional law expert, said that while he sympathised with the committee’s difficult task, it was imperative that the country’s corruption busters be depoliticised.
“Because where such an institution is politicised, then whenever a decision is taken to prosecute, investigate or not to prosecute and investigate somebody, there is always the suspicion that this is being done for political reasons, as our recent history clearly shows.”
De Vos pointed out that the bill would allow the minister of police to appoint the head of the unit – making the anti-graft boss a “political” position – and that it provided no guidelines about the specific skills or qualifications required for the job. The bill also makes provision for the head of the unit to be dismissed on the subjective grounds that he or she was not performing “sufficiently” – leaving room for the head to be removed for political reasons.
De Vos also reminded lawmakers that they should not legislate for what they “think” politicians will do with the powers granted them, but for what they “fear” politicians “might one day do”.
And he stressed that, whatever MPs decided to do in the end, the anti-corruption unit should be able to take its own decisions on what, when and who to investigate.
Currently, the bill makes provision for a cabinet sub-committee to draft regulations about what type of investigations may be pursued by the unit.
The hearings continue today.