SA, your patience will soon be rewarded with juicy graft trials: NPA, SIU
The bodies understand SA’s frustration, but say it takes time to develop watertight prosecution cases
In the face of fast-eroding public confidence in South African law-enforcement agencies — caught in the mire of corruption and state capture — the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) have appealed for patience.
During a BizNews webinar hosted by journalist Tim Modise on Thursday, the agencies said they would deliver on their mandates to hold the corrupt to account, including politicians and those who profited unduly from the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, they maintained that robust and formidable investigations that were beyond reproach took time.
“We want to make sure we have a winnable case when we go to court,” said the NPA’s Sipho Ngwema.
He said the prosecutorial body, under the stewardship of Shamila Batohi, was in a rebuilding phase to try to restore the capacity that was dulled by state capture.
“South Africans should bear with us. We have had issues over the past 10 years and these issues have affected the quality of our work. We want to improve that so when we take action or make announcements the quality of our cases will stand the test of court,” he said.
His comments are cast against the backdrop of a fresh corruption scandal involving senior politicians linked to allegations of procurement irregularities for Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE).
Also contributing to widespread public discontent is that politicians seem to be beyond reach, despite evidence of graft and malfeasance in newspaper reports and books.
“One must remember that the evidence required for a newspaper story and a court case are different. Every day people ask us about high-profile people, but what we always try to avoid is being fixated with individuals, because then we could make mistakes,” Ngwema said.
One must remember that the evidence required for a newspaper story and a court case are different.Sipho Ngwema, NPA
“In terms of development of cases and where evidence leads us, we follow it and we will take action against those responsible, whoever they may be. There is no influence that will stop us from acting [against] anyone.
“We understand the frustration of South Africans, but there must be serious quality control in our organisation so we are not an embarrassment in court,” he added, referring to the Estina court matter against key figures in the Gupta empire, a case that was eventually withdrawn.
“People should not look beyond many months. With the evidence we have we may be able to take action sooner, but I cannot give dates. The criminals are also listening and we want to surprise them,” he added.
“The mistake we made in the past was pronouncing when we will be taking action and we lost the element of surprise. They [pronouncements] create good headlines, but they put us under pressure. Investigations are very fluid and we will take action, and that action will be seen,” said Ngwema.
“When we acted against the VBS Mutual Bank accused, we were able to serve them with indictments at their first appearance ... everything was finished and done. I can’t give timelines now, but when we take action the public will know and they can keep us to account.”
The call for patience was echoed by SIU head advocate Andy Mothibi, who said their move on Eskom executives to reclaim R3.8bn bled from the utility was an example of “action”.
“Those are tangible results that you see. Those matters are before court for recovery and to hold people accountable,” he said.
He added that the SIU was tasked with a raft of graft matters, many of which were on the cusp of being finalised.
“Very soon those matters will be in court. Members of the public have asked what has happened to those who made money off the Life Esidimeni saga. We know now they are in a final phase and we may see some default judgments soon,.”
Mothibi said many SIU matters had been referred to its judicial offshoot, the Special Tribunal, a court designed to expedite corruption matters.
He said the default judgments that would follow were an indication that their investigations were robust and difficult to defend.
“I can safely say that some of the accused are not opposing [default judgments] because we have made formidable cases.
“Any Covid-19 litigation process we start will go to the Special Tribunal to recover the monies. It’s not only the public sector or public officials, there are private companies involved and we will not spare them. We will act against them, civilly or criminally, if we have to,” he said.