The role of a broken criminal justice cluster in the state capture project was brought into sharp focus during the recent appearance of former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen at the Zondo commission.
The chair of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, said: “I am hoping that more people within the sector will come forward. If we do not have a proper law enforcement agency then we don’t have a country.”
Booysen laid bare a web of alleged corruption in the police, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). He said this corruption culminated in these institutions “being subverted to ensure the shielding of certain individuals from criminal sanction”.
“Unless they get rid of the rotten apples within the NPA, police and the Hawks, we are doomed,” Booysen said.
In a recently released submission to the Zondo commission, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and Corruption Watch tackled the alleged capture of criminal justice agencies, and what can be done to safeguard them from political interference in the future.
The joint submission recommends reform relating to the appointment of officials occupying senior positions in these agencies, as well as legislative provisions to ensure greater transparency regarding the relationship between the national executive and criminal justice leadership.
Former independent police investigative directorate head Robert McBride, former Hawks head Anwa Dramat, former NPA head Mxolisi Nxasana and Booysen are some of those regarded as casualties of a captured criminal justice system.
This capture saw officials allegedly favourable to the cause of state capture being installed into senior positions over so-called corruption busters.
The 70-page submission draws links between this alleged manipulation of the criminal justice agencies and declines in their capacity for dealing with commercial crimes, including corruption.
“There can be no doubt that the abuse of executive authority in respect of criminal justice agencies has been central in allowing the current proliferation of corruption,” the submission reads.
Gareth Newham, the head of justice and violence prevention at the ISS, told the Mail & Guardian that it is important to mend the criminal justice system.
“There has to be a much broader political project to uncapture these institutions,” Newham said, explaining that changes in leadership must be accompanied by the systematic rooting out of corruption across management structures.
The submission points to “several positive developments in relation to re-establishing the integrity of criminal justice agencies”.
These include the appointment of Godfrey Lebeya as head of the Hawks and the public interview process that led to the appointment of Shamila Batohi as the new national director of public prosecutions.
That may be positive but, Newham said, “You’ve got Godfrey Lebeya there and you’ve got all these people under him that he can’t trust and work with. They don’t have any interest in reforming and improving the Hawks because they were put there not to do that.”
Government “can have the best plans on paper”, but they will fail as long as there are people in criminal justice agencies actively resisting reform, he added.
Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis told the M&G that his organisation and other civil society groups will campaign for a standardised appointment process for leaders in the criminal justice institutions “that at least obeys the rudimentary rules of human resources management”.
He said the campaign would approach Parliament’s office on institutions supporting democracy to discuss legislative and constitutional amendments “that would give effect to a single, rational appointment process”.
Lewis said that where Corruption Watch has in the past had an adversarial relationship with the state, the organisation is now “challenged to co-operate with the state to some extent, while remaining independent”.
“I think for the criminal justice agencies, to build some level of trust between communities and the authorities is absolutely essential,” he said.
Newham agreed: “The last couple of years have been all about pointing out the problem. Now we have to actually try to help solve the problem.”