By Jeanette Clark, Moneyweb correspondent
A disease of the system that needs to be stamped out. This is how minister of finance Pravin Gordhan described corruption in South Africa at the recent Discovery Invest Leadership Summit.
“If you hear about corruption or bribery in the public or private sector, please act,” he told delegates.
This is sometimes easier said than done with system changes in South Africa possibly thwarting progress made with corruption cases.
Take for example, the Scorpions. Established in 2002 a lot of success was achieved through this unit that was housed under the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Under the Directorate of Special Investigations (DSO or Scorpions as it was known), a number of high profile investigations and cases illustrated how crucial the unit was.
The DSO was first in South Africa to convict financial directors of fraud, tackle major international corporate raiding in conjunction with the UK and USA, and register money-laundering and racketeering convictions. The unit was key in arresting suspects in the Brett Kebble murder. Some of the other investigations highlighted in the media included the travel fraud prosecutions that resulted in 38 cases against members of Parliament being concluded. The Shaik and Yengeni rulings and the Selebi and Agliotti cases all originated with the Scorpions.
The unit had a conviction rate of between 82% and 94%. In 2002 66 people were arrested. In 2006 this number had climbed to 617. In 2002 180 prosecutions were finalised. In 2006 this was 214.
But in June 2008 the Scorpions was disbanded and a total of 287 DSO cases were transferred to the new Directorate for Priority Crime (or Hawks), which falls under the South African Police Service (SAPS).
One case study, however, raises concern over what happened to these transferred cases.
Francois Nortje has been struggling to get a case of possible corruption investigated since reporting it back in 2005. He said there was finally some progress made back in 2008 with the Scorpions and then he was told the case was being transferred to the new Directorate for Priority Crime.
Since then he has been struggling, with legal help, to find out whether the case is being investigated. No one has contacted him for a statement on the matter.
Nortje says he has been trying to do what Gordhan suggests, but that it is a struggle.
“This is worrying. It gives one the impression that it is just lip service when politicians say they are serious about corruption. It’s been years where I send letters and queries, with all the necessary detail on an annual basis and nothing gets done,” he says.
The case he wants investigated includes the same players that were highlighted in newspaper articles earlier this year around Manaka Property Investments. Manaka is a property company co-owned by among others Parliament’s finance portfolio head, Thaba Mufamadi and has as a director former Limpopo Tender Board chairperson, Jannie Moolman. The company leases property to government departments and has gained the attention of Parliament’s ethics watchdog.
The 287 cases that were transferred from the Scorpions in 2008 were evaluated and reassigned.
“These projects were subjected to an evaluation in determining the nature of each project, the status of each project, the resources that are required to finalise investigations and the allocation of the projects within the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) for finalisation,” the SAPS 2009/2010 Annual Report reads.
Ultimately 17 cases were transferred to be investigated in terms of the Organised Crime Project Investigation (OCPI) approach; 164 cases transferred to the Commercial Crime units for completion of the investigation; 48 cases transferred to the Organised Crime units for completion of the investigation; 55 cases were found to be ready for closure and three cases awaited approval for closure during the transfer process.
Up until that time 261 suspects were arrested during the investigation of these cases resulting in 38 convictions.
An answer in parliament to a question from the DA around the current status of these cases show that of the 127 cases that were under investigation or on the court roll only ten cases were still under investigation as projects. In total 24 cases were finalised at court with convictions, seven cases were withdrawn at court and 86 cases were still on the court roll.
This seems to show that a lot of progress has been made, but Nortje says he is still struggling just to get confirmation that someone is investigating the matter that he brought to the attention of the authorities. He received a letter from the deputy director-general of the NPA in March to inform him that a Brigadier Pieterse of the DCPI would be able to assist him as the case was transferred to it. The office of the Brigadier forwarded his query through to a Brigadier Moodley. Nortje has not received any further word.
The first hurdle when trying to report on the efficiency and capacity of the Hawks is that it is a struggle to contact them.
No numbers for the division specifically are readily available and a call to the SAPS could land you in a maze of transferred calls or busy signals.
Questions were submitted to the spokesperson for the Hawks, McIntosh Polela, but a week later no answers were received.
Ever since the Scorpions was disbanded there has been debate around the possible lack of independence of the Hawks. This year the South African Police Service Amendment Bill was referred to the Police Portfolio Committee for consideration. The Bill is a result of a Constitutional Court ruling (the so-called Glenister Judgement), which found that the Hawks was open to political interference by senior politicians and that this must be remedied in legislation.
Dianne Kohler Barnard, shadow minister of police for the DA, told Moneyweb that the Hawks would never be independent as it falls under the wrong structure. She said that there have been cases where a commercial crime has a link to a politician and the case just drags on forever.
She also says that the Scorpions were very efficient and that the Hawks is not matching these standards.
The latest SAPS Annual Report shows that only 35% of crimes investigated by the DPCI has court ready case dockets – for commercial crimes the percentage is even lower at only 25.6%.
“Where the Scorpions had a conviction rate between 82% and 94%, the Hawks are managing detection rates of around 50% and court ready percentages that are lower. It was a disservice that we did this country when the Scorpions were disbanded,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Moneyweb on 10 September 2012 – click here to see it.