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Give money to state capture investigators not SOEs, says parliament

16 October 2019 - 17:30 By Andisiwe Makinana
National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi has admitted to parliament that the finalisation of cases has been extremely slow.
National director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi has admitted to parliament that the finalisation of cases has been extremely slow.

MPs have called for additional funding for law enforcement agencies involved in investigating corruption and state capture, rather than giving money to failing state-owned entities like Eskom and SAA.

The call came on Wednesday as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) revealed dismal outcomes for cases referred to the authority by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) for prosecution over the past six years.

Of the 881 matters referred to the NPA by the SIU for possible prosecution since 2013, only 293 resulted in cases - of which 144 were still under investigation, 11 were before the courts, and 14 were withdrawn. The NPA declined to prosecute in 18 cases, and only nine were finalised in court.

NPA boss Shamila Batohi was the first to admit to parliament's public accounts watchdog Scopa that the finalisation of cases had been extremely slow. She described the authority's performance in this regard as abysmal.

She blamed the poor performance on a range of issues, including the deliberate weakening of state institutions to enable corrupt activities to go unpunished.

"We have to recognise that institutions have been weakened, that these cases, the key ones for various reasons were deliberately not given the attention beyond a couple of months back, there was no will to deal with these cases efficiently,” Batohi told MPs.

Added to that, there were capacity issues at the authority, where there were more than  700 vacant prosecutor posts and where there had been a freeze on recruitment since 2015. This was to reduce the compensation budget.

"There have been resource issues, skills issues, corruption issues and a lack of will in certain instances to deal with these cases effectively. Many of the big ones just fell through the cracks and with all those factors, you can see why the figures look like they do," she said.

But with her team, she was working on initiatives to unlock the logjams, although institutional problems like corruption, sometimes overt, continued.

MPs sympathised with both the authority and the SIU, whose hard investigative work goes to waste if suspects are not prosecuted.

The NPA gets a budget of about R3.9bn a year while the SIU gets less than R500m.

"We give institutions which are critical for the recovery of our country, both economically and for soul healing, less than we give to the SABC. It's appalling," said DA MP Alf Lees.

Lees registered his sympathy for the leadership of the two institutions, saying he did not believe the poor record of the work performed was simply because they didn't care.

"It's just unconscionable that we spend money on SOEs that just waste it and here we have something that's going to drive our country forward both in our social fabric and assist in our economy - and we don't give them resources," he said.

Lees proposed that the committee highlight these inconsistencies in its report and push for more money for the two bodies.

MPs across the board agreed.

Committee chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa (IFP) said there was merit for the funding request. "I make the comment in jest but it's underpinned by seriousness, you need a bailout. That's the bottom line."

He explained that the benefit of funding the NPA and the SIU was that the spending was to recover money, which was necessary.

"We set up ourselves for failure as a country if we do not fund the very institutions which assist the process of restoring good governance, consequence management and recoveries, and preventing losses."

Hlengwa said they needed a "bailout" similar to the R1.1bn announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month to fight gender-based violence.

The ANC's Sakhumzi Somyo said the situation was extremely unfair on the SIU, that after all its hard work there was some kind of a logjam somewhere else.

"It defeats the intention to ensure we instil ethical conduct. It defeats the morale of those who unearth these kinds of malfunctions and the expectation is that they must do more," he said.