Lamola says government noting Zondo’s advice on permanent anti-graft body

The justice department is taking into account the recommendations of the Zondo commission as it mulls how the Investigating Directorate (ID) can be morphed into a permanent anti-corruption structure, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said on Tuesday.

He was responding to criticism from parliament’s portfolio committee on justice about the scant number of high-profile corruption cases the ID has brought to court in the three years since its inception.

It was set up in 2019, with an initial budget of R38-million, through a presidential proclamation that can be amended or rescinded at any point.

Lamola said it was not fair to suggest that the entity “has been slumbering”; it faced constraints, and these must be addressed with a view to allowing the ID to evolve into a permanent, sustainable structure.

“The challenges that they face must be responded to in terms of the permanency of the ID, which we are in agreement that it should evolve into a permanent kind of structure,” he said, after presenting the department’s overview to the committee. 

“What we are looking into at the current stage [is] what will be the end product of an anti-corruption institution, also taking into consideration the recommendations of the Zondo commission and other inputs from other stakeholders — what will be the permanent and long-term sustainable institution that will evolve out of the ID.”

He said the ID must be given the support to respond to the findings of the Zondo commission in terms of further investigation and prosecution.

Last month, Lamola suggested that President Cyril Ramaphosa could shed light on the form of a permanent anti-corruption structure when he reports to parliament on the government’s plans to implement the recommendations of the Zondo commission.

“The investigative directorate has declared 82 investigations and enrolled 20 cases with 65 accused. It has also prioritised nine corruption matters for enrollment within the next six months,” Lamola told the committee on Tuesday. 

“In their own words, advocate Shamila Bathoi and her deputy, Anton du Plesiss, have said that we are nearing a moment of high level prosecutions being executed without fear or favour. We shouldn’t second guess them, they are better placed than all of us to tell no lies and claim no easy victories.”

Democratic Alliance MP Glynnis Breytenbach retorted that South Africans could no longer muster much enthusiasm about promises that the ID would soon bring high-profile corruption cases to court. 

“What on earth have they been doing if they have only been laying the groundwork?” she asked. “They were brought into being to deal with high-profile prosecutions, mostly emanating from state capture. Those cases are not new, we’ve heard about them for years, the information about them has been available for years.”

She noted that in many instances of grand corruption, cases were opened with the police years ago and said the ID should have brought these to the courts in no more than a year.

“The ID should have collected all of those cases, got them court ready in not more than a year and we should already have seen high-profile convictions. And to say now we can look forward in the next six months to high-profile prosecutions, well really? We have been looking forward to high-profile prosecutions in the next six months for the past three years. The tenure of that investigative directorate is almost over and we have seen nothing.”

Lamola demurred that this was not true and noted that the prosecutions have flowed from the Free State asbestos and Estina dairy farm scandals.

In part four of his report on state capture, released on Friday, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo recommended that businessman Edwin Sodi, the former head of the Free State department of human settlements, Nthimotse Mokhesi, and national human settlements director general Thabane Zulu face prosecution for their role in the asbestos scam that cost the province R255-million.

Elsewhere in this part of the report, he also recommended that Rajesh Gupta, former Eskom executives Anoj Singh and Matshela Koko and former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane — who is the current chairperson of the portfolio committee on transport — face prosecution. The ID has been struggling for years to secure the extradition of the Gupta brothers and their spouses.

Zondo in February said it would take “an army of prosecutors” to act on the recommendations of the state capture inquiry he has led for more than four years.

In the first part of his report he had lamented that the National Prosecuting Authority had failed to prosecute cases of corruption, and specifically cases of corruption in the procurement process. Only one person has been convicted in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act that came into force in 2004, he noted.

He argued for a “thorough re-appraisal of the structure of the NPA in order to understand the causes and the nature of its institutional weaknesses so that these can be addressed presumably by way of legislative reform”. 

But, he said, it was the president to order that such an analysis be undertaken.

Some commentators have questioned the notion that a new anti-corruption body should evolve out of the ID or be located in the NPA, saying this would not allow the requisite independence and insulation from political interference.

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