/ 3 April 2014

NPA staff ‘appalled’ by investigator’s anti-Madonsela foray

In her report on the Nkandla upgrades
In her report on the Nkandla upgrades

The Durban attorney who is leading the charge against public ­protector Thuli Madonsela's report into upgrades at President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla estate does not shy away from contentious issues.

Comfort Ngidi recently led an investigation into alleged irregularities in the office of the controversial KwaZulu-Natal director of public prosecutions, advocate Moipone Noko.

This report is now at the centre of a dispute, as the senior legal staff who laid the complaints have been informed by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that they will not be given access to his findings.

But the NPA denied that it had refused staff access to the report. "On the contrary, they were informed that interested staff members may approach the office of the chief executive to request that copies of the report be made available to them.

"It would have been a costly exercise to make copies of the report available to all KwaZulu-Natal NPA staff members, the majority of whom have no interest in the matter."

"[Currently], the office is polarised between management and staff, such that there is no cordial communication between the rival groups," said an NPA staff member.

"The interests of the staff lie with service delivery and proper administration of justice."

Staff complaints
Ngidi was employed by the office of the national director of public prosecutions to conduct the investigation into staff complaints in Noko's regional office, which included alleged abuse of the merit system and allocation of cases, and "racism and abuse of power".

Yet Noko's appointment by President Jacob Zuma in an acting role in 2012 was in itself mired in controversy, as senior NPA staff predicted she would pave the way for the dropping of charges in the fraud and corruption cases ­involving ANC ­officials and Uruguayan ­businessperson Gaston Savoi. 

The charges against the ANC officials arose from allegedly corrupt tenders awarded to Savoi's company, Intaka, for the purchase and hire of water purification plants and oxygen equipment supplied to government hospitals between 2004 and 2007.

The Mail & Guardian was reliably informed by a number of sources at the time of Noko's appointment that her predecessor, advocate Simphiwe Mlotshwa, had not bowed to pressure to withdraw charges against two accused in the case, top ANC KwaZulu-Natal political figures Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni.

Two weeks after being appointed to the post, Noko dropped the ­criminal charges against Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni, and declined to give reasons for her decision. 

Noko has since been given a permanent appointment by Zuma, despite the mutiny in her office.

The independent investigation into alleged irregularities in her office cost the NPA about R700 000, the staff claimed, but they said the money spent would be wasted if they could not see the results.

The NPA denied the investigation had cost that amount, but declined to reveal the actual cost.

NPA staff members said they were "appalled" when they learnt last week that Ngidi and a group of ­lawyers, some with connections to the ANC and Zuma, had announced they were preparing court papers as they wanted Madonsela's Nkandla report to be reviewed by a court.

They were now questioning why Ngidi had been picked to do the NPA investigation, they said. 

Ngidi said he had been chosen as investigator because he was one of the most senior attorneys in the province, and the investigation had cost "far less" than staff suggested.

"Is it a crime to be a good lawyer and an ANC member?" Ngidi asked. "The investigation was independent, and done to the best of my ability. I also requested in my report that the employers should make it available to staff."

Although he said he could not reveal his findings, the terms of reference for the investigation required Ngidi to determine whether Noko was "a fit and proper person" for the job. 

To be able to conduct his investigation, Ngidi was given the power to enter NPA offices, inspect or seize any documents or records, and interview staff.

Legal staff claimed that, during the investigation, there had been attempts to influence management not to testify, and they had reported the matter to the national office.