'We follow evidence, not individuals,' says NPA boss Batohi as MPs question lack of arrests in North West

15 March 2021 - 21:33
By mawande amashabalala AND Mawande AmaShabalala
Shamila Batohi says that to get to the big fish you first fry the sardine, which is bound to start singing when the frying pan gets hot and it starts imagining what 15 years in jail feels like. File picture.
Image: Alon Skuy Shamila Batohi says that to get to the big fish you first fry the sardine, which is bound to start singing when the frying pan gets hot and it starts imagining what 15 years in jail feels like. File picture.

Parliament's ad hoc committee on the government's intervention in the North West is not pleased that the NPA is yet to charge a single politician for the alleged plunder of the public purse during the Supra Mahumapelo's time as premier.

Members of the committee expressed this view when an NPA delegation, led by national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi, appeared before them on Monday.

There are only 51 cases that have been opened since section 100 was invoked on the North West provincial government in 2018 — with 13 of them now in court. The remainder of the cases include 13 on which the NPA is yet to decide whether to prosecute — while 16 cases have been finalised, with five convictions and one acquittal.

The total amount involved in all 51 cases is R2.3bn.

All those charged are officials who were and/or are in administration in various departments, but none are or were political principals.

Members of the ad hoc committee said charging officials only was not good enough because the affected provincial departments, one of which being the office of the premier (OTP), had political principals at the time the alleged crimes were committed.

Batohi defended the NPA pursuing only the officials, saying their decisions were based on evidence.

“We do not target individuals but we certainly follow the evidence and that is really important because we are not politicians and are not here to play political games,” said Batohi. “What we are here to do is to ensure that those who have plundered our government resources are held to account no matter which part of the political spectrum they belong to.”

Furthermore, Batohi said, it was a proven tactic that to get to the big fish, first fry the sardine, which is bound to sing when the frying pan gets too hot.

Said Batohi: “Also the issue of building cases, it is very difficult sometimes as you start out to be able to catch those most responsible at the top of the ladder. So building cases sometimes requires that those at the lower levels are indicted and brought to court because lower-level people have no incentive to talk against very powerful people with a lot of money.

“So, very often, you need, as law enforcement, to build cases from the lower level. So when people think 'I am faced with a choice here, I am either facing 15 years or I got to talk'. This is sometimes necessary to get to those most responsible.” 

Another stumbling block, Batohi told the MPs, was the legislation disjoint that links the NPA to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). As things stand, the fact that the SIU does not have criminal focus in its investigations but referred cases to the NPA was not helping.

This because, when cases referred to by SIU get to the NPA, they still have to be referred to the Hawks who have to open a docket and do further investigation.

“The majority of these cases [referred to us by the SIU] are not ready for criminal prosecutions. Once these cases come to us, we have to send them to the Hawks because there has to be a criminal docket opened and a criminal investigation.”

Batohi said investigation deficiencies made matters worse for the NPA to be confident of successful prosecutions should they pursue some cases to court.

“The 51 cases are not enough, I agree. There are probably hundreds more but these are the cases we have received for the DPCI [Hawks]," she said. “I do not know if the extent of the weakening of the DPCI is really appreciated in terms of skills, capacity and forensic investigation capacities.

“It is for us a source of frustration ... we and the DPCI are joined at the hip and if there is no capacity in the DPCI, you might as well forget about the NPA because there is nothing we can do. Ours is a joint success or a joint failure.”