/ 10 February 2008

Battle over future of the Scorpions

An intense battle over the future of the Scorpions is raging between the government and the African National Congress (ANC), the Sunday Times reported.

The party’s parliamentary caucus was setting up a heavyweight committee to drive the dismantling of the unit, while President Thabo Mbeki was mounting a defiant fightback campaign to preserve it, the newspaper said.

The committee — the first of its kind — comprised five senior MPs from the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. It was set up to ensure that the government dissolves the Scorpions by June.

Sources close to the stand-off between Mbeki and the forces that defeated him at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in December said the president planned to appeal to public opinion to help keep the Scorpions intact so that they could continue their fight against organised crime.

They said Mbeki had accepted that the unit would have to move out of the National Prosecuting Authority’s office, but that he wanted to keep it broadly intact.

”You cannot simply scrap the Scorpions and leave nothing in their place. There has to be some organisation to fight organised crime,” an official close to the process told the newspaper.

The government is even seeing the support of opposition parties as a welcome addition to the arsenal.

A senior MP said the job of the five-person committee would be to make sure Parliament met the June deadline set by the ANC’s national executive committee.

Others said the mandate would include checking the text of the legislation that will do away with the Directorate of Special Operations, as the Scorpions are officially known, to make sure it meets the ANC leadership’s demands.

The chairperson of Parliament’s committee on safety and security, Maggie Sotyu, is the convener of the new committee. She is believed to have told the ANC caucus that Parliament would move along the deadlines set out by the Polokwane conference without compromise.

Other members of the committee are Ben Fihla, Bulelani Magwanishe, Christopher Ntuli and Florence Nyanda.

Parliamentary sources confirmed that Mbeki was aware of the watchdog committee’s operation, which is the first to be set up by the ANC to monitor the drafting of legislation in an ANC-controlled ministry, the Sunday Times


Vigorously oppose any moves

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance will pursue all avenues to ensure the disbanding of the Scorpions adheres to Parliamentary procedure and is not fast-tracked, the party said on Sunday.

”Reports today [Sunday], which indicate that the ANC has set up a committee to drive the process of the dismantling of the Scorpions through Parliament, is yet further evidence of the disdain that the ruling party has for Parliament,” the DA’s spokesperson on justice, Tertius Delport, said in a statement.

”It has been alleged that this committee would do everything possible to meet the ANC’s self-imposed deadline for the disbandment of the Scorpions by June.”

This revelation, said Delport, came swiftly after another statement by Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of the National Assembly and ANC chairperson, that the June deadline was ”do-able”.

Delport said he was given the impression that the decision was a fait accompli and Parliament’s function was simply to rubberstamp a decision taken by 4 000 delegates at Polokwane.

”In light of these attempts to undermine Parliament, the Democratic Alliance will tomorrow, Monday February 11, write to the speaker of Parliament requesting her assurance that the proper Parliamentary procedure will be followed in this matter.

”We will also vigorously oppose any moves to disband the Scorpions, or for the matter to be rushed through Parliament. If there is any sense that Parliament is seen to be doing Luthuli House’s dirty work, then we will not hesitate to challenge the process through all appropriate channels, legal or otherwise,” Delport said.


South Africa remains on course to become a winning nation, Mbeki said on Friday during his State of the Nation address in Parliament — but, he added, ”I am aware of the fact that many in our society are troubled by a deep sense of unease about where our country will be tomorrow”.

Contributing to this sense of unease is the country’s energy emergency, which can be overcome in a ”relatively short period” and should be used to become more energy efficient, Mbeki said. ”Let us therefore use this emergency to put in place the first building blocks of the essential energy-efficient future we dare not avoid,” he said.

He apologised to South Africans for the national emergency and thanked them for their ”resilience and forbearing”. Eskom, he said, is ”working furiously” to ensure the introduction of co-generation projects. ”We have emergency task teams dealing with … coal quality and supply with the coal-mining industry and we are working to fast-track the approval and construction of gas turbine projects.”

The era of cheap electricity is at an end, he said. Despite this, and given the country’s large base of installed generation capacity, South Africa will remain one of the few economies with affordable electricity for a long time. — Sapa