'I'm here to stay': Shamila Batohi vows not to quit when the going gets tough

06 December 2021 - 16:16
Advocate Shamila Batohi says quitting is not an option. File photo.
Advocate Shamila Batohi says quitting is not an option. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

“I came back from the Netherlands and took on this job not to resign when the going gets tough.” 

This was the word from National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Shamila Batohi on Monday as the Investigating Directorate (ID) remained under pressure to probe and prosecute high-profile corruption and state capture crimes.    

Nearly three years after its inception, the entity is yet to prosecute a single case successfully.

Batohi’s remarks come days after news about the resignation of advocate Hermione Cronje as the head of the ID just two years and eight months into what Batohi described as a “tough job in a tough environment”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Cronje in 2019 to expedite the investigation and prosecution of state capture cases. The ID, established in March the same year, was dubbed the “new Scorpions”.

Cronje leaves office in March.

Allegations of infighting as a result of strained interpersonal relations between Batohi and Cronje came to light shortly after the news of the resignation but they have been dismissed by Batohi.   

“The incorrect narrative in the media, that it is because of interpersonal relations between her and I, really makes for dramatic reporting and that’s where it ends. It is important to note that in a high-pressure and high-stakes environment, occasional tensions and disagreements are normal,” she said.

“The ID was and remains under considerable pressure to perform.”

Asked if she too would resign amid criticism and uncertainly, Batohi said this was not a route she and members of the executive committee would consider, having made “tremendous sacrifices” to rebuild the institution.

Resignation is not an option, we’ve got to get the job done. As hard as it gets, I feel confident that we will succeed — not as quickly as many people would like, but we are trying really hard and we will continue to do that.
Advocate Shamila Batohi

“There’s a commitment not just from me but the entire executive committee. There are so many members of the executive committee who have made tremendous sacrifices to come back to the NPA, to rebuild and to make sure that we contribute to rebuilding this country.

“Resignation is not an option, we’ve got to get the job done. As hard as it gets, I feel confident that we will succeed — not as quickly as many people would like, but we are trying really hard and we will continue to do that.”

Batohi’s ultimate goal is to transform the NPA into an independent, professional, accountable and credible institution, she said.   

The director was confident operations would continue as per normal despite Cronje’s departure, adding that many cases were ready to be enrolled.  

“Advocate Cronje has played her part, she’s helped laid the foundation for the ID and as she mentioned in parliament, the ID is now well poised for the next chapter.”   

While Batohi said she accepted criticism of the institution, she boasted about developing structures, and implementing processes and policies in less than three years.

“It takes time to establish a new entity within any organisation, especially within government. Most businesses, organisations or design experts will agree that it takes at least three years for an organisation or department to break even.

“In just over 2.5 years, the ID has an established structure of more than 120 staff compromising of four specialised clusters and two admin or management units. The ID recently moved into its own secure building with state-of-the-art facilities and we are really looking forward to the next chapter, moving from this really good foundation with the leadership of advocate Cronje.”

On criticism of lack of high profile corruption convictions, Batohi cited the use of “Stalingrad” litigation by accused people attempting to avoid trial, and capacity issues. 

“These matters are really complicated and the sad reality is that in the current climate accused people will do everything possible to ensure cases do not proceed to finality; that the state is not even able to start leading the evidence on merits of the case.

“It is important to note that the NPA has the capacity to prosecute certain corruption cases, complex crime matters and other high-level crimes. However, the extent and nature of state capture corruption does require additional, specialised skills and capacities,” she added. 

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