/ 29 November 2011

Mixed feelings over SIU’s surprise appointment

Mixed Feelings Over Siu's Surprise Appointment

There was mixed reaction on Tuesday over President Jacob Zuma’s replacement of Willie Hofmeyr with Willem Heath as head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said it was “shocked” that Hofmeyr had been replaced.

“Of great concern is the lack of reasons given for this decision,” DA MP Debbie Schafer said in a statement.

“Given Hofmeyr’s obviously excellent work in combating corruption in both government and elsewhere there can be no justification for this decision.”

Schafer said speculation that Hofmeyr’s assistance in the public protector’s investigation involving Cabinet ministers and National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele hit too close to home for the African National Congress, could not be avoided.

Ease the pressure
Zuma announced Heath’s appointment on Tuesday.

He said it would ease the pressure on Hofmeyr, the deputy national director of public prosecutions, who had headed the SIU in conjunction with his role as head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU).

“The president has been aware of the great work Willie Hofmeyr has done in leading the SIU and leading the fight against corruption. He’s done some really great work,” presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj told the Mail & Guardian.

“The president decided on this strategic restructuring to further step up the fight against corruption.”

“We have been looking at our capacity now and how to take it to a higher level and therefore this is a strategic restructuring,” he said.

Heath was appointed with immediate effect.

Close relationship
The ANC welcomed Heath’s appointment.

“We believe with the appointment of [former] judge Willem Heath and through his impeccable experience, the SIU will rise to the challenge of intolerance against crime and corruption,” ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.

The Council for Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) said it was concerned at Hofmeyr’s removal as SIU head.

“Under the leadership of Hofmeyr the SIU, despite its limited mandate, became one of the key structures in the fight against corruption,” Casac said.

It had noted that Zuma had a close relationship with Heath, who acted as an adviser to him when he was being investigated by the Scorpions.

Independence compromised
“While as head of the SIU he will only investigate matters that are referred to him by the president, his independent judgment will be compromised,” said Casac.

It said the appointment was a set-back in the quest for a robust and fearless criminal justice sector.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which represents about 70% of SIU employees, also welcomed the announcement.

“Mr Hofmeyr’s failure to transform the agency and his indecisiveness in resolving worker issues had left our members disillusioned and feeling under siege,” Nehawu said in a statement.

“Willem Heath has a lot of work ahead of him but we want to assure him that he can count on the support and cooperation of our union, as long as worker issues are resolved and transformation is given a priority.”

In September, Nehawu called on Zuma to remove Hofmeyr has the head of the SIU.

Heath headed the SIU when he was a judge in the Eastern Cape High Court.

He resigned as a judge in 2001 as a result of a Constitutional Court ruling which found that the appointment of a judge as head of the SIU was unconstitutional.

Heath currently serves as an adviser to Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe and is the CEO of Heath Forensic Investigations.

Heath told the M&G: “I’m very excited about it and I have the assurance that the president is supporting that and the request comes from him and therefore I think it will be a success.

“It’s going to be difficult because he’s [Hofmeyr] a very hard worker so I would obviously have to be dedicated as well and have to live up to that standard. I wasn’t expecting the announcement to be made today,” he said. — Sapa, M&G Reporter