/ 11 February 2008

Mbeki mulls future of Scorpions

The “specialist nature” of the Scorpions might well be retained, wherever the unit is finally located, President Thabo Mbeki said on Sunday.

The government remained firmly committed to ensuring South Africa’s capacity to fight organised crime was enhanced, not reduced, he said in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

“The fact of the matter, whatever happens with the Scorpions, we will try to ensure that our capacity to fight organised crime, even maintaining, the specialist nature of the … Scorpions, we don’t lose that either.

“That’s the outcome, that’s what you must get in the end,” Mbeki said.

The Scorpions were set up to concentrate on organised crime.

However, the South African Police Service also had a division specialising in organised crime, as did the Financial Intelligence Service, the National Intelligence Agency, the South African Secret Service and the customs service.

“All of these deal with organised crime. So the challenge for the government is to say, what do we do around this whole area of organised crime.”

Mbeki said it was a complex matter and not just about one unit.

“What about all the other elements within the government system that deal with that?” he asked.

He said the review of the criminal justice system had to go beyond just the Scorpions.

“The thing that is particular about the Scorpions, is that it is placed together with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).”

He said none of the other units had been paired with the NPA, and this had to be addressed in the overall context of the review of the criminal justice system.

“The thing to focus on is the Scorpions were established to fight organised crime. The issue that arises is whether or not the government continues [to be] determined to fight organised crime.

“This remains a principle matter of focus. So at the end of the day, whatever happens in terms of that comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, the question that must be answered is whether we have strengthened the capacity to fight organised crime or weakened it.”

Government had to increase the capacity to fight crime, Mbeki said.

Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula and Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla would provide details about the review next week, he said.

No Cabinet shuffle

Meanwhile, Mbeki said the Cabinet would not be shuffled to accommodate the African National Congress’s new guard.

Mbeki told the Star that the issue of ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe being incorporated into the Cabinet had not been raised.

“Kgalema has not raised that. I speak to Kgalema quite often … Nobody in the ANC has ever suggested such a thing to me. Nobody.”

Asked if he planned to appoint Motlanthe, Mbeki said, “Nobody, [neither] the president of the ANC, the secretary general or the deputy president have ever

raised that with me.”

“I don’t know where that comes from,” he said.

Battle lines

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported that battle lines were being drawn over the future of the unit.

The African National Congress’s parliamentary caucus was setting up a heavyweight committee to drive the dismantling of the unit, while Mbeki was mounting a defiant fightback campaign to preserve it, the paper 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.

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 unit, 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.