The Democratic Alliance will, on Saturday, launch its manifesto for the general elections to be held in May. This is our promise to voters and a blueprint for what South Africa will look like under a DA government. One of our key promises is that we will fight to root out corruption.
In early 2009, the ANC scrapped the highly effective directorate of special operations (the Scorpions) and, with that, we lost the country’s last effective corruption-busting unit. The unit had had a conviction rate of between 82% and 94% since 2002.
The ANC spearheaded the disbandment to protect its own. Even though the Scorpions were not truly independent, they convicted seven members of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), with plans to investigate at least six others. This is not something the ANC could allow — they felt the sting from the Scorpions and had to kill the venomous creature they saw as a threat to their looting.
The government then introduced the directorate for priority crime investigation (the Hawks). Unlike the Scorpions, this unit fell under the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The Hawks were also part of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and reported directly to the minister of police. With Berning Ntlemeza as its head, the Hawks proved to be captured and nothing more than the ANC’s puppet. Instead of protecting the people, the Hawks protected the ANC.
Fast forward to 2019 and President Cyril Ramaphosa promised in his State of the Nation address that “there is an urgent need to establish in the office of the NDPP [national director of public prosecutions] an investigating directorate dealing with serious corruption and associated offences, in accordance with section 7 of the NPA Act”.
This new directorate won’t be fully independent because its continued-existence is not ensured. The president can at any time rescind his proclamation, which will, in effect, disband the unit. The directorate seems likely to have a limited mandate, restricting it to investigate state-capture cases emanating from the Zondo and other commissions. South Africa needs a unit that can investigate and prosecute corruption in a permanent and far-reaching manner. So, what should we do about the cesspool of corruption that’s been looting state coffers and stealing from taxpayers?
A new unit
In line with the Glenister judgment, which stated that the Bill of Rights placed a positive duty on the state to create an independent corruption-fighting body, a DA government will scrap the Hawks and establish a new unit to replace them. The structure of this new unit will be based on the erstwhile Office for Serious Economic Offences, taking cognisance of the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom and the Singapore model.
The unit should comprise an investigatory arm, staffed and led by SAPS members, as well as a prosecutorial arm, staffed and led by specialist NPA members. The head of each arm should report to the police commissioner and the NDPP, respectively. The unit as a whole should be answerable, through the NDPP, to Parliament. These are, after all, the very people whom the voters have chosen to represent them and their interests. Other characteristics of this unit would include:
- An independent budgetary process that is removed from executive control;
- Security of tenure to ensure continued existence of the unit;
- The use of forensic consultancy services to expedite priority cases, until such time when the requisite specialisation is achieved;
- Restructuring the current specialised commercial crime unit in the NPA. It already has some prosecutorial expertise in this specialised field. It also already co-operates with the commercial branch of the SAPS in the investigation of this genre of cases; and
- Providing the unit with the necessary specialisation, training, independence and resources.
Crime and punishment
Under a DA government, anybody found guilty of corruption will face a minimum sentence of 15 years unless enough evidence is placed before the court that there are grounds for a shorter sentence. We will fight corruption by:
- Ensuring that all public money is used in a transparent fashion. Key information about tender processes will be placed online and government departments will be required, among other things, to publish monthly financial reports detailing, among other things, contracts entered into and tenders awarded;
- Electing all political office-holders directly. Citizens must hold their president, premiers and mayors directly accountable;
- Implementing regular lifestyle audits for politicians and government officials. Those suspected of fraud and corruption and randomly selected officials (similar to how the South African Revenue Service identifies tax payers for auditing) will be audited;
- Ensuring that officials found guilty of financial misconduct or mismanagement will be placed on a register that bars them from working in procurement and supply chain management; and
- Protecting and encouraging whistle-blowers who identify and report corrupt activities by introducing penalties or offences for revealing the identity of a whistle-blower or the content of their submission.
We have seen time and again that the ANC has no genuine intention of fighting corruption. It only cares about enriched cronies at the top of the party at the expense of millions of South Africans who continue to live in abject poverty.
The Hawks proved it is captured and Ramaphosa’s proposed unit is not sufficient to tackle wide spread, permanent corruption.
We believe the new unit outlined in our manifesto is the only real chance we have of fighting corruption. During his address, Ramaphosa said we should “watch this space”. If we do that, it will be like watching paint dry on a wall. We need action and we need it now. The DA is the only party that can bring this to all South Africans.
Phumzile van Damme is a DA MP, the party’s communications representative and the spokesperson on corruption