Editorial: NPA mistakes to avoid
Shaun Abrahams, the new national director of public prosecutions (NDPP), has not only inherited a poisoned chalice; he is likely to spend time and energy away from his key performance indicators – to lead and guide the embattled National Prosecuting Authority.
For a while, at least, he will be measured by his ability to extinguish political fires rather than by the success of his prosecutors. This is why he reassured the nation this week: “I am nobody’s man. I am my own man.ä It sounds defensive, but for an institution embroiled in political wrangling and infighting, his reassurance is crucial for the NPA’s stability and his own credibility.
Second, he is not the most senior prosecutions official in the organisation and therefore it won’t be easy to win the confidence of people who, until this month, were his de facto bosses. More so because most of them have waged factional wars and compromised the independence of the NPA by allowing and inviting political meddling. Abrahams is also faced with demoralised staff, some of whom were forced or chose to join factions to survive.
Third, Abrahams must have the courage of his convictions to stave off political pressure. He will have to protect the NPA’s independence against the executive and President Jacob Zuma, whose battles with the NPA have helped destroy the organisation’s credibility. But he also has to push back the opposition’s attempt to interfere with the NPA’s decision-making power. Even though the Democratic Alliance’s court applications against the NPA were motivated by apparent abuse of power by some of the previous prosecution chiefs, the party also aligned itself with some of the internal factions.
For Abrahams to navigate through these divergent political interests, he must finish his 10-year term, something his predecessors have not done. He should take advantage of Zuma’s vulnerability as the president trudges through his last term. His grip on power and influence through patronage will wane along with his term, as is the case with any lame-duck president.
Abrahams will soon find more friends in the ruling party willing to support his independence and defiance of a meddling executive. It is also an opportunity to lobby for constitutional or legislative safeguards to shield the NDPP, let down by a weak Parliament, against an overweening executive.
He must also lobby harder to rid the NPA of some of the current deputy national directors. They are mostly factional and their continued presence is likely to lead to his, and the NPA’s, catastrophic failure.