Publication: The Natal Witness Issued: Date: 2005-03-23 Reporter: Opinion Reporter:

Scorpions at Bay



The Natal Witness





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Judge Sisi Khampepe's one-person commission of inquiry into the Directorate of Special Operations, more commonly known as the Scorpions, includes rather ominously the words "to examine the options regarding the appropriate location of the directorate". It has been suggested by a number of observers that the commission itself was called into being as a result of political pressure on President Thabo Mbeki to remove the Scorpions from the control of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and bring it under the control of the police commissioner.

The Scorpions are to some extent the victims of their own success. A specialist crime-fighting force, they are, in comparison to the regular police force, lavishly endowed with human and equipment resources. They pursue high-profile criminals and do so with panache and a high conviction rate. In the perceptions of the general public, the Scorpions are both lean and mean - effective crime-fighters who are not afraid of anyone. They arrested controversial figures such as Sir Mark Thatcher in the glare of the world's media, but it was the investigations of Schabir Shaik and Deputy President Jacob Zuma that have been the catalyst behind this commission's appointment.

Former director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka sailed far too close to the wind when he pointed the finger of accusation at Zuma and was then not able to substantiate his allegations of corruption in court. The resultant furore brought into the open the whole war that was already brewing within the upper ranks of the ANC over Mbeki's successor. Ngcuka has subsequently moved on and been replaced, but this has not satisfied those who want the Scorpions returned to both political and administrative control under SAPS Commissioner Jackie Selebe.

Judge Khampepe should consider the valuable lessons in crime fighting learnt with the Scorpions. One is that there is a category of serious or organised crime that can only be fought by specialist agencies with sophisticated skills and equipment. Crime syndicates know no boundaries and South Africa needs the local equivalent of the American FBI simply to cope with the ever-increasing threats posed by drug and weapons smugglers, money launderers and international fraudsters.

A second is that fighting corruption both inside and outside government is not a matter for regular police who can too easily by intimidated by seniority and rank. The only effective weapon against corruption is a force which operates with relative independence and autonomy from the regular chain of command.

A third is the need to combine investigative and prosecution roles within a single entity. The Scorpions are successful precisely because they do not have to deal with the gaping void that exists between those who investigate crimes and those who prosecute them. Whatever else the commission decides, it is imperative that these principles be preserved in any future crime-fighting organisation.

With acknowledgement to the Natal Witness.