/ 30 January 2009

Motlanthe approves Bill disbanding Scorpions

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe has approved two pieces of legislation disbanding the Scorpions, the Presidency confirmed on Friday.

Spokesperson Thabo Masebe said the president had approved the SAPS Amendment Bill 2008 and the NPA Amendment Bill 2008.

Motlanthe recently raised the ire of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) by failing to approve the contentious legislation scrapping the Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions).

He had agreed in December to consider a request by Johannesburg businessman Hugh Glenister to submit legislation disbanding the Scorpions to the Constitutional Court.

Glenister, who went to court unsuccessfully to block the state’s plans to dissolve the elite unit, received a letter from the Presidency’s legal services division saying his “submission will be considered before the president signs the Bill into law”.

It was argued that the Bills violated South Africa’s obligation as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption to maintain independent units to combat corruption.

On Thursday, Glenister’s attorney, Kevin Louis, received a letter from the office of the president informing him that Motlanthe had assented to the two Bills.

“According to the letter from Advocate Sibongile Sigodi, head of legal and executive services in the Presidency, the president found there ‘was no basis for constitutional reservation [of the Bills] as contemplated in Section 79 of the Constitution’,'” Louis said in a statement.

He could not immediately be reached for further comment.

The Bills transfer the Scorpions investigators to the South African Police Service (SAPS) and give a ministerial committee wide powers to determine what crimes the new unit that replaces the Scorpions, the directorate for priority crime investigation (DPCI), should investigate.

The Mail & Guardian reported in October that the DPCI, 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.
  • 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 ministers great powers to determine what crimes the DPCI will investigate.

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.

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.

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.