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By Thato Mahlangu

A new head for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) has been appointed, announced the police watchdog last week.

The Portfolio Committee on Police said last Wednesday it has confirmed the nomination to appoint Jennifer Dikeledi Ntlatseng as Ipid’s new executive director (ED).

Ntlatseng had been the director of the community relations under the secretariat for civilian police oversight and monitoring in Gauteng before being appointed the new ED at Ipid, according to News24.

Before the announcement was made last week, Patrick Setshedi had been the acting ED of the organisation, taking over from Victor Senna who was also an acting ED after Robert McBride’s contract ended in February 2019.

In a turn of events, McBride was announced as the new director for the Foreign Branch of the State Security Agency on Thursday, 16 July 2020.

Before Ntlatseng’s appointment, the position had been held by acting executive directors since McBride’s departure last year, including Senna and Setshedi.

The Helen Suzman Foundation is set to fight the appointment

But the Helen Suzman Foundation said it is opposing the appointment, describing the process to appoint Ipid’s new executive director as ‘flawed’ and ‘messy’.

The foundation said it filed court papers with the Supreme Court of Appeal, opposing the committee’s process of appointing the new executive director.

“Any attempt to appoint a new executive director at Ipid prior to the court’s judgment, would be unlawful,” said the foundation.

Through its lawyers, Webber Wetzel, the foundation is arguing whether the minister of police Bheki Cele and the committee were permitted, by law, not to renew McBride’s contract.

McBride had, through his lawyers, challenged the decision which he described as ‘irrational’.

Should Ipid be an independent institution?

Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos argued that Ipid should be separate from the police ministry.

“Ipid was created as a constitutionally guaranteed independent police complaints body to protect citizens from similar abuses in the democratic era. The primary duty of Ipid is to investigate any alleged misconduct or offence committed by a member of the police service,” De Vos explained.

He said by having its own independence, as stipulated by the section 4 of the act, Ipid is able to handle cases or complaints which are brought members of the public against the police without any fear, favour or prejudice or undue external influence.

CW’s involvement in the case  

On Thursday 7 February 2019, Corruption Watch requested admittance as amicus curiae in the matter. The organisation’s stance on the matter had always been that the police watchdog should remain an independent body, and the committee should continue its oversight work.

“Our concern is to protect the independence and integrity of Ipid. In the event of conduct by the minister and the portfolio committee that falls short of full legal compliance, the public will rightly infer a political interest in the identity of the head of Ipid. Given the extent of police corruption this is of the gravest concern and will be resisted,” said David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch.

The organisation said it was aware that the minister has the discretionary power to appoint an acting head on the expiry of McBride’s contract, but it cautioned the committee to not lose focus on what it was constitutionally mandated to do, which is to provide parliamentary oversight on the issue of renewal of the contract before it expired.

“The committee’s oversight role began the minute McBride was appointed.  It is therefore constitutionally obliged to decide on the renewal before the contract terminates,” said the organisation.

The organisation said one of the primary reasons it intervened in the matter is the failure by the committee to exercise its power to provide parliamentary oversight in the renewal of the contract. 

“As a body mandated to investigate any misconduct by members of the South African Police Service, the independence of the Ipid must be upheld if it is to function as an effective accountability mechanism. Any erosion of this independence facilitates corruption,” said the organisation.