Hawks bill 'not good enough'
Elite crime-fighting unit the Hawks would become "adequately" independent from the police if it were subject to the oversight of the police minister and not the national police commissioner.
This was the view of Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, tabling the SA Police Service Amendment Bill in parliament yesterday.
Mthethwa assured MPs that, contrary to the concerns of some members of the opposition, the amendments would strengthen the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations as a separate crime- fighting unit within the police.
"The Constitutional Court in its judgment indicated that the creation of a separate crime-fighting unit within the South African Police Service was not in itself unconstitutional," Mthethwa said.
The amendments follow a Constitutional Court ruling that found flaws in the bill that, the court said, could make the Hawks vulnerable to political interference.
But Mthethwa said the court did not require that the Hawks be entirely independent but that the unit should have adequate structural and operational independence.
Legal and security experts have argued that if the Hawks reported to a political appointee their independence would inevitably be compromised.
"The bill provides the [Hawks] with adequate structural and operational independence to perform [their] functions," Mthethwa said.
"However, what is also important is that the anti-corruption law- enforcement approach is not over-burdened by having to investigate cases of petty corruption. Therefore it is ideal to limit their jurisdiction to serious cases."
But opposition parties went on the offensive, saying the bill did not guarantee enough independence from political interference.
DA police spokesman Diane Kohler Barnard said: "Tinkering with the wheels of a car that has no engine is a futile exercise. We had that opportunity, and we missed it."
She said "adequate independence" was not sufficient considering the endemic nature of corruption in South Africa.
ANC MP Sindi Chikunga, chairman of the portfolio committee on the police, said the draft bill would empower the head of the Hawks to draw up the organisation's budget, recruit and dismiss staff, and control internal structures.
She said that even though the minister would appoint the national head of the Hawks, the appointee's independence would be secured.
"It does not automatically imply that the appointee will not act independently. There is adequate independence and a degree of insulation by management from political interference," she said.