13 July 2024 | 11:08 AM

No need to restructure special units, says Pikoli

Key Takeaways

Former prosecutions boss Vusi Pikoli has no desire to “rule from the grave”, but is concerned about developments at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). amaBhungane’s Adriaan Basson quizzed Pikoli at his home in Pretoria this week about NPA boss Menzi Simelane’s restructuring plans.

Is there a need to restructure the NPA?

In principle there’s nothing wrong with restructuring as long as it makes the body more efficient in carrying out its mandate. But from the little I’ve seen and read, especially when it comes to the very successful SCCU [Serious Commercial Crimes Unit] and AFU [Asset Forfeiture Unit], I have doubts whether [restructuring them] will make the NPA more efficient. These units have consistently had success rates of over 90%. The NPA’s biggest challenge is its core business — the National Prosecuting Service — which is falling far behind.

Simelane seems to believe the NPA should focus on its core function — prosecutions. Do you agree?

Yes, its core function is of course prosecution. But given the evolution of crime, particularly organised crime, we do need specialised units. The challenge is new ways of fighting crime. Traditional policing in this country has failed.

Simelane says these specialised units should be based at regional level.

These units have always had regional branches. Of course their offices weren’t in the director of public prosecution’s office, given the nature of their work. They also had to house investigators. The AFU has regional heads who report directly to [AFU head] Willie Hofmeyr. I don’t understand the reasons behind [restructuring the AFU]. The unit has been very, very successful. It’s an internationally acclaimed unit that doesn’t have to justify its existence.

Should the SCCU be restructured?

I don’t know the reasons. I don’t know why they [SCCU staff in Pretoria] had to move out of their office. Perhaps he [Simelane] thinks it will work better. But no one has come up with a diagnosis to say this unit has been malfunctioning. So in the absence of such an explanation it is difficult to say this is going to be a good move. It is creating uncertainty.

How would uncertainty affect the NPA?

It could only lead to demoralisation. People don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, how they’re going to function, especially if there’s no effective communication. I’m saddened by this. If the results go up from 90% to 100%, I’ll be fully behind the process.

Would disbanding the SCCU and AFU reduce our corruption-busting abilities?

Absolutely. I’ve just read that [SCCU head] advocate Chris Jordaan will become the national coordinator of commercial crimes. I truly don’t know what it means to be the “national coordinator”.

Jordaan is a DPP [director of public prosecutions] responsible for a special unit. The DPPs [in the regions] are generalists. They deal with thousands of cases, so you are killing the original idea of having a dedicated focus on commercial crimes — This [restructuring] is a reversal of gains we’ve achieved.

Why would Simelane want to make these changes?

I don’t know. I suppose the new man would want to put his own stamp of authority [on the NPA]. “I’m the new man, that’s how I want things done.” Perhaps he’s genuinely thinking he’s doing the right thing. Perhaps unconsciously he’s reversing the gains. If we don’t elevate the fight against corruption to greater heights, we’ll never be able to achieve the socioeconomic rights enshrined in our Constitution. We’ll be robbing people of all the resources that are supposed to go to the development of this country.

Simelane says the NPA is “untransformed”.

What is meant by “transformation”? I don’t know what he means — I don’t know if he means race. But transformation goes beyond the question of race. You can’t divorce transformation from service delivery. You’re transforming to make sure you are delivering services, as you should. He [Simelane] is touching units that have been successful in terms of service delivery.

Are you concerned about the state of the NPA?

As an ordinary citizen who appreciates legal matters and the importance of the institution, I must say there are disturbing signs. We really need to preserve the integrity of that institution. The way to promote integrity is by preserving independence.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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