Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2007-09-24 Reporter: Sapa

Mbeki Suspends Prosecutions Chief



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President Thabo Mbeki has suspended Vusi Pikoli, the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), it was announced on Monday.

"This decision was taken on the basis of an irretrievable breakdown in the working relationship between the minister of justice and constitutional development and the NDPP," said Government Communication and Information System spokesperson Themba Maseko.

He said the suspension was in terms of section 12 (6) (a) of the National Prosecution Act 32 of 1998.

Maseko said Mbeki considers the relationship between the minister and the NDPP central to the effective administration of justice and the "smooth functioning" of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

"The relationship breakdown had adverse implications for the NPA and the functioning of the criminal justice system," he said.

An inquiry will be instituted to investigate the functioning and role of the NDPP. Recommendations will then be made to Mbeki.

Deputy NDPP Mokotedi Mpshe has been appointed as acting director.

"Government would like to reassure all South Africans that the functioning of the justice system will not be compromised, especially within the context of the collective challenge to fight crime," Maseko said.

The move to suspend Pikoli comes amid a bitter turf war between the police and the Scorpions that has escalated to Cabinet level and soured relations with Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Brigitte Mabandla. The minister has sided with the police, arguing that they are the superior crime-fighting force.

The move also follows allegations that the Scorpions had been overzealous in pursuing a corruption case against African National Congress deputy president Jacob Zuma and had attempted to smear the presidential hopeful.

'Immense implications'

The suspension of Pikoli has "immense national implications", Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said.

Her spokesperson Martin Slabbert said Zille will ask the party's justice spokesperson, Tertius Delport, to request that the justice portfolio committee be recalled as soon as possible "for a full briefing" on Mbeki's decision. The committee is on a three-week recess at present.

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) said it was "shocked" at Pikoli's suspension.

"We could understand it if the suspension related to incompetence or incapacity. However, merely to allege a breakdown of relationship is very drastic and draws into question the degree to which the NDPP can act impartially and without fear or favour," said ACDP spokesperson Libby Norton.

Norton said an inquiry should have been held before Pikoli was suspended, adding that the suspension will negatively affect the criminal justice system and morale in the NPA, which South Africa cannot afford in view of the high crime rate.

"The ACDP believes that the justice and constitutional development portfolio committee should urgently reconvene and obtain a briefing on this matter," she said.

NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali confirmed that Pikoli had been suspended, but referred all questions to the Government Communication and Information System.

African National Congress (ANC) presidential spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama could not immediately be reached for comment. Mbeki is currently attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Taking office

Pikoli had replaced Bulelani Ngcuka as NDPP on February 1 2005.

"I suppose the biggest issue is building public confidence in the criminal justice system, to have prosecutions at the centre ... ensuring effective prosecutions," he said at the time.

Ngcuka had been cleared in February 2004 by the Hefer commission of having been a spy for the apartheid government. The allegation arose in a series of tit-for-tat media articles surrounding a botched Scorpions investigation of Jacob Zuma.

Prior to this, Pikoli had held several high-ranking posts in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

In May this year, Pikoli had warned in the National Assembly against ongoing "attacks" on the NPA by the ANC and its affiliates.

He warned "those who continue to attack the NPA to refrain from doing so immediately, unless they want to turn our hard-fought democracy into a lawless society", adding: "You can criticise us, but don't scandalise us."

A spokesperson at the time said Pikoli was "forced to warn the NPA detractors following persistent attacks by high-ranking members of the ruling party accompanied by calls by the ANC Youth League for the disbandment of the NPA during their policy discussion meeting recently".

Pikoli also called on Parliament to defend its laws, as the NPA was only implementing laws adopted by Parliament. "We feel defenceless when we are attacked for implementing laws adopted in this House," he said.

With acknowledgements to Sapa and Mail and Guardian.