Pikoli Gets the Push
Borrie La Grange
‘Problems’ with justice minister may cost NPA chief his job.
President Thabo Mbeki’s surprise decision to suspend the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Vusi Pikoli, will be questioned in parliament.
Pikoli, the national director of public prosecutions, was suspended yesterday on the grounds of an “irretrievable breakdown in the working relationship” with the minister of justice and constitutional development, Bridget Mabandla.
It is understood that political party leaders have been called to a meeting at the Union Buildings in Pretoria today at which Frank Chikane, director-general of the Presidency, is expected to explain Mbeki’s decision.
A government statement read: “This decision was taken on the basis of an irretrievable breakdown in the working relationship ... [that] had adverse implications for the NPA and the functioning of the criminal justice system.”
Government spokesman Themba Maseko said Mbeki could “not allow the tension [between Pikoli and Mabandla] to simmer”.
Maseko told The Times: “The national director had not been accounting to the minister properly. The president spoke to both of them on several occasions and had extensive consultations with them.”
Mbeki is in the US for a meeting of the UN General Assembly.
After the Khampepe Commission hearings in late 2005, Pikoli was forced to report to Mabandla and to Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula.
According to analysts, the dual reporting channels created systemic problems for Pikoli.
Maseko said an inquiry, in terms of the National Prosecuting Authority Act, would investigate “all matters pertaining to the functioning and role of the national director of public prosecutions and make recommendations to the president”.
He would not say when the “problems” between Pikoli and Mabandla had emerged, but said the situation had developed over many months.
DA leader Helen Zille reacted with shock yesterday: “This is a decision that holds immense national implications, especially considering the number of cases currently with Pikoli’s office.”
The party will lodge a request with parliament that the justice portfolio committee be recalled from recess for a urgent briefing on Pikoli’s suspension.
The African Christian Democratic Party’s spokeswoman, Libby Norton, said: “We could understand it if the suspension related to incompetence or incapacity. But merely to allege a breakdown of [a] relationship is drastic and draws into question the degree to which the director can act impartially and without fear or favour.”
A senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Jake Moloi, said that, by not giving reasons for Pikoli’s suspension, Mbeki invited speculation.
Moloi said: “The president is stingy with the facts . He offers a conclusion without explaining what precipitated it. He should have taken the nation into his confidence.”
He said an inquiry should have been held before Pikoli was suspended.
Moloi said the circumstances were reminiscent of the axing of intelligence chief Billy Masethla.
Shadrack Gutto, a constitutional and legal expert, said the dual reporting channels created complications for Pikoli: “Reporting to two ministers is not managed simply. It would not be easy to do it to the full satisfaction of either minister.”
Pikoli’s deputy, Mokotedi Mpshe, has been appointed acting national director.
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 spokeswoman Libby Norton.
Norton said an inquiry should have been held before Pikoli was suspended.
With acknowledgements to Borrie La Grange and The Times.