Motlanthe Axes Pikoli Despite Being ‘Cleared’
President Kgalema Motlanthe yesterday upheld Thabo Mbeki’s decision to axe prosecutions chief Vusi Pikoli, in a move that appeared to ignore the Ginwala inquiry’s findings that the government had failed to make its case against Pikoli.
The Ginwala report, released yesterday, found the government had not proved that Pikoli was no longer fit to hold office.
Motlanthe’s decision sets an unhappy precedent for the future relationship between the executive and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Judge Chris Nicholson in the case of African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma urged a separation between the executive and the NPA to prevent political interference in NPA decisions.
Motlanthe was firm in his decision yesterday.
“This is my own decision,” the president said at a briefing in Pretoria.
“I have taken this decision with a clear conscience. The inquiry was not an arbitration. The report is merely meant to help the president arrive at his decision,” he said.
Mbeki, then head of state, dismissed Pikoli in September last year. He later commissioned Frene Ginwala, former speaker of the National Assembly, to conduct a probe into Pikoli’s fitness for office.
Although Ginwala’s report was largely in favour of Pikoli, Motlanthe said he thought it “illogical” to allow the suspended NPA head to return to office.
In a 214-page submission to Motlanthe, Ginwala said that the “government made a wide range of allegations” against Pikoli, but she found that the claims “were often far removed in time from the date of the suspension”.
Ginwala rejected Pikoli’s claim that Mbeki had suspended him to derail an investigation of police commissioner Jackie Selebi. On the official reason for Pikoli’s suspension, Ginwala found the allegation that the relationship between Pikoli and then justice minister Brigitte Mabandla had broken down irretrievably had “not been proven”.
Ginwala raised “serious concern” about Pikoli’s meeting with Mbeki about the Selebi investigation, however. Pikoli did not give due consideration to “the actions the president might need to take in order to defuse a potential security crisis and instability, and to preserve the country’s international relationship”, Ginwala said.
Although Ginwala acknowledged that this comment was an extension of her mandate, Motlanthe appeared to have used it to justify his action against Pikoli.
Motlanthe said Pikoli had lacked an “understanding” to operate within a “strict security environment”, and that he “did not fully appreciate” national security issues.
Motlanthe did not answer questions about Nicholson’s ruling that it was improper for the executive to meddle in the affairs of the NPA.
In Pikoli’s response to the Ginwala report, his lawyers said they believed the inquiry was unduly protective of Mabandla and Mbeki.
“ Some of its findings against Mr Pikoli were a manifestation of its determination to protect the minister and the president. They should be judged in that light,” they said.
Pikoli’s lawyer, Aslam Moosajee, said yesterday that his client would consider all his options, including legal action.
Motlanthe’s action against Pikoli and Ginwala’s finding that Pikoli should not have second-guessed the president have dealt a serious blow to the independence of the NPA.
The president’s reliance on the contention that Pikoli did not adequately appreciate “national security” issues means that any future NPA decision to go after a senior political figure could be argued along the lines that it would be against national security considerations.
The ANC said yesterday that it “noted” and “supported” Motlanthe’s decision in terms of the NPA Act.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) said that Motlanthe had failed the first real test of his presidency. “President Motlanthe’s decision to fire Adv Pikoli without justifiable explanation has all the hallmarks of a cover-up *1,” the DA said.
While welcoming Motlanthe’s decision on Pikoli, the South African Communist Party said that it was “foolhardy” not to find “mechanisms” to address the “serious concerns” raised in the Nicholson judgment.
Motlanthe’s decision has to be ratified or rejected by Parliament.