Ministers to run new Scorpions?

A powerful ministerial committee, including Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, will oversee the functioning of the new police unit replacing the Scorpions.

Legislation approved by Parliament on Thursday gives the committee wide powers to determine what crimes the directorate for priority crime investigation (DPCI) should investigate.

The committee will comprise Manuel, Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Justice Minister Enver Surty.

The Scorpions were effectively shut down this week after two Bills transferring the unit’s investigators to the South African Police Service were accepted by Parliament. This comes 10 months after the ANC adopted a resolution at its Polokwane conference demanding the centralisation of all law enforcement bodies under the SAPS.

The impact of the Polokwane decision on the functioning of the Scorpions was clear from Manuel’s medium-term budget statement this week. ”The directorate of special operations [the Scorpions] will not achieve its projected targets, mainly due to limited staff and low staff morale. The vacancy rate is 45,95%. Only 90 and 50 investigations and prosecutions respectively will be finalised,” read the budget.

The DPCI, already nicknamed ”Dipsy”, after a character from the children’s TV programme, Teletubbies, will look very different from the Scorpions.

  • A deputy police national commissioner, appointed by the minister of safety and security in concurrence with the Cabinet, will head the unit.
  • The DPCI will investigate ”national priority offences”, in particular serious organised crime, serious commercial crime and serious corruption.
  • The DPCI’s head may from time to time request the national director of public prosecutions to designate a director of public prosecutions to conduct an investigation for the DPCI.
  • All Scorpions will not automatically form part of the DPCI. Investigators who want to join, as well as members of the police’s commercial crime and organised crime units, will have to apply to a selection panel that will appoint members to the directorate.
  • Stringent screening measures will be put into place that will require members to be vetted by the police’s crime intelligence division before being appointed. If the head of the crime intelligence division decides to degrade, withdraw or refuse security clearance, the person could be transferred, redeployed or discharged.
  • The minister of safety and security may prescribe measures for ”integrity testing” of members, which includes random entrapment, testing for the abuse of alcohol or drugs and the use of polygraph tests to determine the truthfulness of members’ statements.

The ministerial committee will determine policy guidelines for the functioning of the DPCI, the selection of ”national priority offences” and the referral of specific cases to the unit by the police chief.

This gives the five ministers great powers to determine what crimes the DPCI will investigate. During public hearings into the unit’s structure, there was a strong lobby for the unit to probe primarily crimes that ”affect people”, such as house robberies, hijackings and cash-in-transit heists.

Detractors of the Scorpions blamed the unit for being elitist in its choice of subjects and only going after corruption cases in which high-profile individuals were involved.

The final draft of the SAPS Amendment Bill provides for the investigation of ”serious corruption”, and the inclusion of financial experts in an opera­tional committee that will support the DPCI hints that the unit may well have a significant anti-graft ability.

The operational committee will ”review, monitor and facilitate” the unit’s support and assistance and will be chaired by the police national commissioner. Other members include the National Prosecuting Authority boss, directors general of treasury, justice, the National Intelligence Agency and home affairs. The commissioner of the South African Revenue Services and the Financial Intelligence Centre head will also sit on this committee.

Although the DPCI will have no prosecutors or analysts of its own, the Bill provides for the secondment of government officials from any department or institution to the unit.

A ”dedicated component of prosecutors” will be made available by the NPA to assist and cooperate with the DPCI in its investigations. It is unclear from the Bill whether these prosecutors will be the same that prosecute cases when they go to court.

The Bill further introduces a complaints mechanism that will see the appointment of a retired judge to deal with grievances about and within the unit.

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