Dramat’s exit demands an investigation

It is now, at long last, official. Anwa Dramat, the head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), has resigned from the police and as the leader of the unit that, in constitutional terms, is meant to be sufficiently independent to prevent and combat corruption effectively and without fear, favour or prejudice.

The disentanglement follows the highly contested suspension of Dramat just before Christmas last year on the stated grounds of his alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of Zimbabwean citizens to that country in 2010. Some of them were allegedly killed by the Zimbabwean police on their return.

These are serious allegations. They justify a procedurally sound suspension and a proper investigation into whether criminal charges, and perhaps a discharge in disgrace from the police, are required for all those officers involved in the renditions or in covering them up.

The criminality of rendition and its negative impact on the human rights of those involved are beyond debate. Freedom from torture, security of the person, freedom of movement and the rights to life and dignity are denied when this underhand activity, used by the United States in its terrifying “war on terror”, is resorted to by security authorities. If Dramat is guilty, it amounts to a serious breach in the probity and integrity required by his job.

Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko was so keen to suspend Dramat that, when the courts ruled his December suspension of Dramat invalid on technical and procedural grounds, he put Dramat on special leave and kept him away from his office in Pretoria. This continued until Dramat’s resignation last month.

The relevant announcement is vague and opaque. There is no clarity about the terms on which this senior public servant is leaving the service. Taxpayers have not been told what this will cost. Nor is there any official news about the possible criminal charges against Dramat and his alleged collaborators in the renditions. There is just a murky silence and an apparent invocation of “confidentiality”.

This won’t do. Public administration is meant to be transparently accountable and to promote an efficient, effective use of resources. This includes human resources.

It is no small matter to suspend, put on special leave and then have the head of the government’s main anti-corruption entity resign in such circumstances. The rendition allegations have been in the public domain for years but until now have not troubled the executive or the legislature (the police portfolio committee of the National Assembly). The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) did nothing proactive about the claims.

It is possible that this is because the previous minister, the parliamentary committee and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) took the allegations with a pinch of salt. The final IPID report on the matter says Dramat and his colleagues were not involved in the alleged renditions. But an earlier report, apparently a draft, does suggest complicity. This is the hook on which the minister hung the suspension of Dramat.

The public will never know the truth unless criminal and disciplinary steps are taken against highly placed police, the IPID and NPA officials, as apparently recommended in the Werksmans Attorneys report into the matter. This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The head of the Hawks should be empowered to act without fear, favour or prejudice and should lead a properly resourced unit with security of tenure to pre-empt the manoeuvring seen so far. This restriction of executive power has arisen because the Constitutional Court has repeatedly ruled against the government and in favour of those challenging the constitutionality of the legislation that gave birth to the Hawks as successor to the disbanded Scorpions.

In so ruling, the court holds that the executive ought not to behave as the minister has done in this case. The suspension of as important a person as the Hawks’s head should be preceded by the intervention of our multiparty Parliament to ensure that executive action is restrained.

There are those who say the suspension of Dramat had nothing to do with the alleged renditions and everything to do with his request to the police that their dockets on Nkandla be given to the Hawks for further investigation on an independent basis – an independence alien to the police.

Dramat’s alleged request came soon after the Constitutional Court expanded his powers. Until then, the police retained the dockets, despite the possibility of corruption in the allegations they contain. Dramat’s request did not go down well with the Cabinet. The desire to protect Number One is well known.

Another reason for the antipathy toward Dramat, an Umkhonto weSizwe veteran, Robben Island prisoner and deployed cadre of the ANC, is his uncadrelike refusal to dismiss Major General Johan Booysen, the head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal. Booysen is a thorn in the flesh of the corrupt in that province. The stratagem of replacing Dramat with a more malleable successor is said by some critics to be the motivation for his suspension and the route to getting rid of Booysen.

Francis Antonie, the director of the Helen Suzman Foundation, has expressed his displeasure with the situation that has unfolded. The foundation took the suspension of Dramat to court, with resounding success, and may well find reason to do likewise in respect of his resignation. If, as the Democratic Alliance’s indomitable MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard suggests, the resignation is in fact a disguised retrenchment worth many millions of rands, then it is inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid, because it infringes on the security of tenure of office required to give the Hawks’ head the necessary independence.

If the deal struck means dropping the investigation into Dramat’s alleged involvement in the renditions, it will not sit well with the Werksmans recommendations.

Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now

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