Jeff Radebe, the Justice Minister, has ordered prosecutions boss Menzi Simelane to stop “restructuring” the National Prosecuting Authority(NPA) immediately after widespread concerns that Simelane is undermining the fight against crime.
Simelane began a “strategic” restructuring of the NPA several weeks ago, leading to some specialised units effectively being disbanded. They included Willie Hofmeyr’s highly successful Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), the prosecutors of which have been deployed to regional NPA offices.
Simelane insisted on Thursday that only the Witness Protection Unit would remain in the NPA. Radebe had not been briefed “as this is an operational matter and the strategic plan will be submitted to him for consideration”.
This contradicts Radebe’s spokesperson, Tlali Tlali, who told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday: “The AFU will not be disbanded.”
Simelane said that the restructuring proposals “must still be finalised with [Radebe] and the cluster ministers [justice and security] to ensure that they are in line with the cluster’s processes around the service-delivery mechanism”.
Last week Parliament’s justice committee accused Simelane of undermining the fight against crime. Subsequently, Radebe stated publicly that he had not approved the restructuring of the NPA and would discuss this with Simelane.
Tlali confirmed on Thursday that Radebe had told Simelane to defer implementing his “strategic plan”. He said the Cabinet’s justice and security cluster had identified seven “outputs” and that a process was under way to complete a delivery framework for them. The “outputs” included a strengthened anti-corruption campaign, with a specific focus on the AFU and the Special Investigating Unit.
“We can’t have a plan B, the restructuring of the NPA, happening before plan A. There’s a bigger picture — Any moves on restructuring the NPA have to be deferred pending the finalisation of a delivery framework,” said Tlali.
Simelane insisted that the NPA had to be transformed. “The NPA needed to transform itself to meet the needs of society in contributing to the criminal justice system with a view to enhancing public confidence,” he told the M&G. “The structure of the NPA is being streamlined to ensure a focus on core functions, with experienced prosecutors utilised in the delivery of core services —
“The restructuring plan is also aimed at ensuring the DPP’s [director of public prosecution’s] role in overseeing all regional NPA activities and providing stakeholders with a single point of contact.
“This is not a new issue. The discussions within the NPA date back to 2003 or even earlier. They have just never been finalised.”
He said all units, except the Witness Protection Unit, would be integrated into a single prosecuting outfit “that will operate on a regional model with the DPP responsible for all prosecutorial decision-making”.
The heads of the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit (SCCU), Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit and Priority Crimes Litigation Unit will become special advisers to Simelane.
These developments come after the M&G was told this week that senior leaders in government, business and civil society believe that downgrading the specialised crime units would be a major setback for South Africa.
They all met the influential Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which visited the country two months ago to track anti-corruption efforts.
South Africa is seeking membership of the 30-member organisation. South Africa, China, India, Indonesia and Brazil are regarded as “enhanced engagement countries”.
Sources who attended meetings with the OECD said the organisation was concerned about the demise of the Scorpions and that a specialised corruption-busting agency, specifically targeting bribery involving foreigners, was not set up in its place.
“They commended us, however, for having units such as the AFU and SCCU. If these go, we’re in a weaker position,” one government source said.
The visits took place before Simelane announced his “restructuring” plans. Some officials feel South Africa “misled” the OECD by pretending to have functioning specialised units.
Insiders said Simelane pictures himself as at the apex of the NPA with deputy prosecuting chiefs in all the provinces beneath him.
“Apart from Silas Ramaite [Simelane’s deputy in charge of prosecuting services] he effectively has no deputies left.”