13 December 2012

South Africa: DA Refers Special Investigating Unit to Public Protector After a Year of an Acting Head

press release

Tomorrow it is exactly one year since Adv. Willem Heath resigned as head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) after his controversial appointment, and that this Unit, which is so vital in the fight against corruption, has been without a permanent head.

During the tenure of Acting Head Advocate Nomvula Mokhatla, we have become increasingly concerned about allegations emanating from the unit. Our information is that Adv Mokhatla is not able to devote sufficient time to the Unit, given her responsibilities at the National Prosecuting Authority. However, she has made some controversial decisions, such as the reinstatement of Miseria Nyathi against legal advice, and the alleged interference in disciplinary processes. The worst though, is that she now appears to have abdicated her responsibility largely to the very person who was reinstated, amidst allegations that have still not been tested, to the point that it appears Miseria Nyathi is now the one who is really running the SIU.

This undermines the President's appointment, and undermines the credibility and integrity of the SIU.

We also understand that Nyathi has taken possession of her own disciplinary file, and that she is interfering in the Internal Integrity Unit, which is inappropriate and outside the scope of her authority. There appears to be a "witch-hunt" against those involved in bringing the disciplinary charges against her.

Our information is that a number of experienced people have resigned, one has been demoted, and there are a number of appointments that have been made where questions have been raised as to whether the correct process has been followed.

The ongoing involvement of NEHAWU in the SIU is of great concern. In a recent communication they highlighted their "achievements", which include removing Willie Hofmeyr and the reinstatement of Nyathi, the resignation of various people and the "Exco restructuring".

Further concerns have also been raised about the events leading up to Hofmeyr's removal last year, which again involve NEHAWU and even an individual previously involved in the Secret Service.

In the midst of South Africa's declining international image in the Corruption Perception Index, we can no longer afford to ignore these allegations, and we cannot afford the credibility of the SIU to be compromised.

The Minister of Justice told us in Parliament on 22 August that the appointment of a permanent head was "imminent". I asked a follow-up oral question on 7 November around what the reasons for the delay were. I have still not received an answer, despite the rule that replies to oral questions to Ministers should be replied to within 10 days.

We have thus decided, in the absence of suitable responses from the Minister, the President or the SIU, to refer this matter to the Public Protector for a full investigation. Our letter to her sets out more detail relating to our concerns. We have also included several concerns that have been raised by NEHAWU prior to Mokhatla's appointment which are concerning if true, and which we feel need to be investigated.

Debbie Schafer, Shadow Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development

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