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ANC asks lawyers to review NPA Act

The African National Congress’s (ANC) parliamentary caucus has asked party lawyers to review the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act in the wake of the Supreme Court of Appeal’s (SCA) judgement in the Jacob Zuma case, the ruling party’s chief whip said on Tuesday.

Mnyamezeli Booi said Monday’s judgement, which reinstated fraud and corruption charges against presidential front-runner Zuma, raised questions about the powers of the NPA that had to be resolved.

”It is about the authority. Where does it rest?” he told reporters at a briefing called to name the ANC members of Parliament’s ad hoc committee which would study President Kgalema Motlanthe’s decision to fire NPA chief Vusi Pikoli.

”What has the judge seen that we have not seen? What is the problem with the Act? Or is it about how the NPA has conducted itself?” he asked.

Booi said the Act governing the independent prosecutions authority might have to be amended because the latest two judgements in the Zuma case showed that senior judges disagreed in their interpretation of the law.

The chief whip denied suggestions that the ANC’s interest in the matter sprang from the fact that its leader was involved in a protracted battle with the NPA that had cast a cloud over the party’s election campaign and his presidential candidacy.

The SCA judgement on Monday vindicated the NPA’s position that it was not obliged to invite representations from Zuma before charging him, overruling the controversial Pietermaritzburg High Court decision by Judge Chris Nicholson in September that let him off the hook.

”It is not about the president. It is our duty as legislators to look at how the NPA Act is interpreted,” he insisted.

The ad hoc committee studying the Pikoli case will begin sitting on Wednesday and will have until February 9 to make a recommendation to the two houses of Parliament on whether to approve his dismissal.

Oupa Monareng, whom the ANC has proposed as chairperson of the committee, said it would invite representations from Pikoli and would also ask Motlanthe if he wanted to elaborate on his reasons for firing him.

Pikoli was suspended in September 2007 by former president Thabo Mbeki, who cited a breakdown in trust between the prosecutions chief and then justice minister Brigitte Mabandla.

But Pikoli alleges he was sidelined over the NPA’s decision to push ahead with corruption charges against now-suspended national police chief Jackie Selebi.

The Ginwala commission of inquiry found last year that Pikoli was fit to hold office, but Motlanthe refused to reinstate him.

The president based his decision on a remark in Ginwala’s report that Pikoli’s handling of the Selebi case had shown insufficient regard for national security.

Pikoli took a decision to charge Zuma in 2005, two years after his predecessor Bulelani Ngcuka said there was a prima facie case of corruption against the senior politician but that he would not be prosecuted.

Mbeki pleased with SCA ruling
Meanwhile, on Tuesday Mbeki said he was pleased with Monday’s SCA ruling that found no evidence of meddling by himself or the Cabinet in the Zuma prosecution.

In a statement Mbeki said: ”I welcome and accept the determinations made by the SCA that Judge [Chris] Nicholson had no facts before him to suggest that I and the Cabinet interfered with the NPA in its consideration of matters relating to Mr Jacob Zuma.

”I agree with the SCA where it says Judge Nicholson made ‘gratuitous findings against persons who were not called upon to defend themselves; [failed] to distinguish between allegation, fact and suspicion; and [transgressed] the proper boundaries between judicial, executive and legislative functions’.

”Accordingly, I also agree with the SCA where it says, ‘Most of the allegations [of political interference] were not only irrelevant but they were gratuitous and based on suspicion and not on fact’.”

He agreed there was no evidence to support a finding that suggested a strategy involving former justice minister Penuell Maduna, himself and other Cabinet members, as well as a causal connection between himself the Cabinet and former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka on the Zuma case.

”They were instead part of the judge’s own conspiracy theory and not one advanced by Mr Zuma,” said the statement.

”Like the SCA, we had found the manner by which Judge Nicholson made negative findings against the president and the Cabinet ‘incomprehensible’.”

Mbeki said he and the Cabinet had intervened in the NPA’s appeal to the SCA because they wanted to correct the ”unfair and unwarranted inferences” made by Nicholson against them.

”… And as the SCA said, we ‘had ample reason to be upset by the reasons in the judgment which cast aspersions on [us] without regard to [our] basic rights to be treated fairly.’ The SCA ruling has vindicated us.”

He said the SCA had provided leadership on not damaging people’s integrity through untested allegations.

Mbeki said leaders and citizens should reflect on this practice to avoid the ”entrenchment of a culture which may eventually corrupt our society”.

Mbeki was forced to resign in September 2008 after the Nicholson judgement in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, which led the ruling ANC to say they no longer had faith in the president.

The NPA considers Zuma a charged man after the Nicholson judgement was overturned, while Zuma’s legal team is considering its next move, which could include an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

The actual comments on Mbeki, the Cabinet, Maduna and Ngcuka, and inferences of political meddling were not struck out by the SCA, as the judges believed it would be pointless to do so now, but the NPA’s appeal was upheld and the prosecution could continue. – Sapa

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