South Africa’s elite, FBI-style Scorpions anti-crime unit will be dissolved, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said on Tuesday.
”The Scorpions … will be dissolved and the organised crime unit of the police will be phased out and a new, amalgamated unit will be created,” Nqakula told Parliament in Cape Town during a debate on President Thabo Mbeki’s State of the Nation address.
The Scorpions are not part of the police but report to the National Prosecuting Authority, which answers to the Justice and Constitutional Development Department.
The ”best experience” of the two bodies will be merged. This, Nqakula said, is part of a ”holistic approach” to the revamp of the criminal justice system, which will have organised crime as one of its main priorities.
”We need proper measures, better human and material resources to achieve our goals in the fight against all crime,” Nqakula said.
He said the ANC is not ”reckless” in piloting a move to ”change for the better” the strategies and tactics necessary to fight crime. ”We are a dynamic organisation that has always seized the moment to rise to higher levels and that is why we continue to occupy the high moral ground,” he said to howls of protest and jeers from some MPs.
”A revamped criminal justice system must be able to deal with organised crime, investigation and arrest, imprisonment and sentencing, release and rehabilitation … There must be no mercy for organised criminal gangs.”
During her speech, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Brigitte Mabandla said that a recent review of the criminal justice system had found ”gaps” in the crime-fighting chain.
”It found as one of the big weaknesses a lack of capacity and poor coordination, and I must say that was a similar finding by Khampepe [the commission that investigated whether the Scorpions should stay independent of the police]. We have to address this particular challenge of coordination,” she said.
At this point, Speaker Baleka Mbete cut her off, saying that she had already allowed her to go two minutes over her allotted time since she was discussing a weighty matter. Mabandla uttered a startled ”What?” and left the podium.
In reaction, Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said it was very arrogant for Nqakula to undermine Parliament’s authority by announcing the Scorpions’ dissolution.
She said the Scorpions had been established by an act of Parliament. ”And the procedures must start here in Parliament. [It is] not for the executive to announce the dissolution of the Scorpions,” she said.
Also, if Mbeki had acted earlier concerning police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi, instead of uttering the phrase ”I trust you,” the country would have been in a much stronger position in the fight against crime, De Lille said.
Efforts to ”blackmail” MPs into accepting the disbanding of the Scorpions will be vigorously resisted, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said. ”Any attempt to blackmail this house to bend backwards and forwards to accommodate the campaigners for the disbanding [of the Scorpions] will be resisted,” he said.
The combination of prosecution and investigation in the unit has delivered results, he said. ”Disbanding or dissolving the Scorpions [would be] sheer foolishness given the other major challenges facing the nation. The people who drove this campaign were wanted by the law themselves …”
Holomisa proposed an overarching ministry for the entire criminal justice system. This would help coordinate crime-fighting resources and the Scorpions would be accountable to it.
On Sunday, Mbeki said that the ”specialist nature” of the Scorpions might well be retained wherever the unit is finally located.
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 has a division specialising in organised crime, as do 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?” said Mbeki, adding that it is a complex matter and not just about one unit. ”What about all the other elements within the government system that deal with that?”
The Sunday Times reported that battle lines were being drawn over the future of the Scorpions. 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. — Sapa, Reuters