Governance Watch

Will Treasury clip the political wings of the Hawks?

Hawks final.jpg

Will Treasury in future force the Police’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), presently embroiled in political controversy, to concentrate on its primary task of combating corruption and serious crime?

In an ironic twist in the saga in the Hawks’ battle with Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, the Minister of Police last week announced that the unit will in future receive its budget directly from the Treasury – as was the case with its predecessor, the Scorpions. This move brings the Hawks in line with the dictates of the constitution.

Last week the North Gauteng High Court dismissed, with some reservations, the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law’s bid for the urgent suspension of the head of the Hawks, Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza.

For ordinary South Africans it remains, nevertheless, difficult to keep the faith and show respect for the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) so-called ‘elite unit’.

Controversial start

Since its inception, a controversial decision in itself, the Hawks stumbled and staggered from one crisis to the next. Its dismal track record is causing irreparable damage to its credibility.

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In 2011 the Constitutional Court found that the Hawks was “inconsistent with the constitution”, and ruled that the legislation that established the Hawks should be amended.

Again in 2014 the Constitutional Court declared parts of the legislation that governs the unit unconstitutional, because they did not sufficiently insulate it from potential executive interference. In fact the Courts found that, “The Hawks does not meet the constitutional requirement of adequate independence”.

This is precisely the problem that has dogged the Hawks since its inception. The disbandment of its predecessor, the Scorpions, highly effective in comparison, was political.

The success of the Scorpions was the reason for its downfall. Too many important ANC-aligned politicians and their friends received unwelcome attention from them, and their willingness to investigate without fear, favour or prejudice so unsettled the ANC leadership that the unit was closed down.

Among its successes the Scorpions could claim the arrest and successful prosecution of the former national commissioner of police, Jackie Selebi, and an investigation that resulted in 783 criminal charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering against then deputy president Jacob Zuma.

Many, if not most, independent and unbiased commentators and analysts will agree with the assessment by Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS): “Arguably, it was precisely because of their independence and tenacious investigations that powerful individuals (including politicians) involved in corruption decided to close down the Scorpions.”

Dismal report card

From the onset the Hawks, as its history as proven, was designed and structured to serve the Executive.   

Starting with the present head of the Hawks, Lieutenant-General Ntlemeza, described earlier this year by Judge Elias Matojane as “biased, dishonest and lacking integrity and honour” – making false statements under oath – the record of the Hawks tests the confidence of most patriotic South Africans.

The work rate of the Hawks is at a low. In its first full year of operation it managed 14 793 arrests on the back of case files taken over from the Scorpions. By 2014-15 these have dropped to 5 847.

From April last year to September only 1 033 arrests were made by the Hawks, at a time when, according to the Constitutional Court corruption was rife.

The South African public’s trust has been badly damaged by previous controversies involving the Hawks.

Most damaging were the politically motivated vendettas against senior police officers such as former Hawks boss Anwa Dramat, former KZN Hawks head General Johan Booysen, Gauteng Hawks head General Shadrack Sibiya and suspended Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) head Robert McBride.

All of them have been “investigated” by their own colleagues on trumped-up or minor charges and taken to court, only for the cases to be thrown out – in some instances, repeatedly.

The main reason is that they were not “toeing the political line” and investigations causing discomfort for well-connected crooked business people and politicians, particularly President Zuma and some of his family members.  

To this can be added a crusade against well-known forensic investigator and formidable corruption fighter, Paul O’Sullivan, who played an important role in the investigation and conviction of Jackie Selebi and underworld crime boss Radovan Krejcir.

O’Sullivan has vowed to expose corruption within the SAPS and since 2014 has lodged several charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and defeating the ends of justice against various police officials, including Gen. Ntlemeza, Divisional Commissioner of the Detective Service, Lieutenant-General Vinesh Moonoo and acting Commissioner of Police, Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane.

Never afraid of controversy, O’Sullivan sent out an e-mail that read: “I shall be calling a full-blown media conference in Whitehall, London, the purpose of which will be to tell the world that SA has been taken over by a corrupt regime of Zupta-led criminals and that the world must now boycott SA in every way possible, just like they did during Apartheid, until the people run the country again.”

On leaving for London he was apprehended at OR Tambo airport by the Hawks. According to his attorney he has been harassed by the Hawks – even told he could be charged with fraud, treason and terrorism.

The “glaringly suspect” robbery at the Helen Suzman Foundation three days after it launched an urgent application in the Pretoria high court calling for the suspension of Gen. Ntlemeza, has also raised widespread suspicion regarding the possible culprit(s).

Most devastating

Arguably to date the most controversial Hawks action was the almost fanatical harassment of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, raising renewed questions about bias and political motives in some Hawks investigations.

While Minister Gordhan was trying to mop up the negative fall-out of President Zuma’s unexpected sacking of Finance Minister Nene in an apparent attempt to take a more direct control of Treasury at the behest of the Gupta family, the Hawks kept on harassing him.

The fact that Minister Gordhan was busy preparing the most important budget speech since the country became a democracy, trying to prevent South Africa from being downgraded to junk status, was lost on the Hawks.

All they were seemingly interested in was to carry out the narrow personal objectives of a few unscrupulous politicians and their cohorts.

Ironic twist

Then came the twist of Police Minister Nathi Nhleko in his budget speech announcing that the Hawks would soon receive funding directly from the Treasury.

This, he said, “Should satisfy compliance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court in entrenching the independence of the unit”.

At present the Hawks falls under the same budget vote as the Police. With the Treasury destined to carry the purse in future the Hawks would hopefully realign and focus on their main task – fighting the tsunami of corruption and crime in South Africa.  


by Garth Cilliers

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