/ 21 March 2024

The Investigating Directorate cannot afford fear or favour

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A week before the Investigating Directorate raided the speaker’s home, a legislative amendment that confers permanency on the ID quietly completed its passage through parliament.

The allegations against Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula underscores why the country needs a dedicated corruption-fighting unit a decade after the Scorpions were disbanded. 

And the speaker’s indignant complaint that the search-and-seizure operation was part of a well-publicised investigation — media houses may have been tipped off — is a superfluous reminder that politicians play the victim when they come under investigation.

There are greater concerns about the ID as it transitions from an entity established for five years to deal with evidence of state capture uncovered by the Zondo commission to a fixture in the criminal justice system. 

The first is its capacity to conduct investigations that lead to convictions. The collapse of the Nulane trial and the failure to bring the money-laundering case against Matshela Koko to trial leads one to despair.

Permanence may help the directorate attract and retain skill, but this is not only a matter of funding. Those who lead the National Prosecuting Authority need the sense to hire seasoned staff, and to shelve pride and rely on senior counsel in private practice when necessary. It resisted doing so in both the Nulane and Koko cases.

Beyond this organisational weakness lies the question of whether it can escape the political meddling that killed the Scorpions. 

The legislation does not address the intrinsic lack of autonomy of the NPA and extends this weakness to the ID by leaving it located within the authority, without financial and operational independence. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa hinted in his initial response to the Zondo report that the justice minister may be relieved of final responsibility for prosecutorial policy, but appears to have changed his mind. 

His administration’s antipathy to the chief justice and his recommendations is an open secret. 

But public trust in the ID’s ability to investigate without fear or favour will in part depend on whether it brings before court culprits named by the commission from which it derived its original mandate. 

Like the speaker, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe and the party’s deputy secretary, Nomvula Mokonyane, have been accused of accepting favours from a state contractor. Mantashe’s well-publicised attack on Zondo for noting that neither he nor anybody else has successfully challenged the report should really serve as a reminder of the serious findings against him and others who have not yet outlived their political use. 

If the ID does not deem such matters worth pursuing the perception will not be that it is overwhelmed — that is a given — but that the directorate is executive-minded.