We must recover stolen money, says Shamila Batohi

24 July 2019 - 21:11 By Qaanitah Hunter
National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi. File picture.
National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi. File picture.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Shamila Batohi does not want the NPA to merely prosecute people who plundered public funds, but make sure they recoup the money lost through corruption.

Addressing the annual Kader Asmal lecture, hosted by the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution (Casac), in Sandton on Wednesday, Batohi said: "It is just not about putting people in prison. It is about bringing back the money. It is an insane amount of money has been stolen by corruption."

She said corruption happened in plain sight and had become more brazen than ever imagined.

“Corruption has become so widespread that there is a real danger of it becoming entrenched and normalised in South Africa unless something serious happens soon. For too long, corrupt politicians, government employees and business leaders have acted almost with impunity to plunder the scarce resources of our country,” Batohi told the gathering.

Advocate Shamila Batohi delivered the 6th Kader Asmal annual lecture in Sandton on July 24 2019. The national director of public prosecutions touched on the current state of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and plans to take the department forward.

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She added that almost a third of South Africa’s GDP had been lost to corruption.

Since taking over office, Batohi has maintained that the criminal justice system has been broken and dysfunctional - and has said it will take a long time to rebuild.

“We must understand that for years there was a deliberate attempt not to ensure these cases were not investigated. There was nothing happening about these cases. Now that everyone is hearing about these cases in all of these commissions, the public says: 'Why is the NPA not arresting people?'” she said.

Batohi reiterated her long-held view that effective crime-fighting could only be done through a multi-pronged approach.

“People say they want to see people in orange overalls. What they don’t realise is that it will happen and when we do it we must make sure we get it right because those who will be arrested will certainly hire the most competent (lawyers),” she said.

Batohi said it was reasonable for people to expect arrests and to want to see the wheels of justice turning.

But she reminded the crowd of what a bad state the criminal justice system has been in.

“The depth of the challenges that face us both in the NPA and the criminal justice system is very serious,” she said, further noting that when she returned to the NPA in February this year, she found the NPA divided and weakened.

She said despite the enormous challenges, there was hope and further added that she had not faced any interference from the executive as was the case in the past.