Lead­er­ship, fund­ing cri­sis crip­ples NPA

• Pros­e­cut­ing author­ity needs R761m to fill 1,064 va­cant posts, in­clud­ing 244 which are crit­i­cal

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Karyn Maughan

SA’s state pros­e­cu­tions body, still lead­er­less af­ter the Con­sti­tu­tional Court ruled former pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s ap­point­ment of Shaun Abra­hams in­valid, is in the midst of a fi­nan­cial and staffing cri­sis that is com­pro­mis­ing its abil­ity to do its job.

About eight months since Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to ad­dress “lead­er­ship is­sues at the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity (NPA), the in­sti­tu­tion is be­ing ham­strung by bud­getary con­straints and res­ig­na­tions that have left 1,064 posts, in­clud­ing 244 that are seen as “crit­i­cal” to its func­tion­ing, va­cant.

Act­ing na­tional direc­tor of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions Si­las Ra­maite told par­lia­ment this week that “bud­getary con­straints se­verely strain the NPA’s abil­ity to func­tion op­ti­mally and de­liver manda­tory ser­vices”.

Busi­ness Day un­der­stands that the jus­tice depart­ment has been talk­ing to the NPA about pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

The need for an ef­fec­tive pros­e­cu­tions author­ity was high­lighted this week by the re­lease of a Re­serve Bank-com­mis­sioned re­port on loot­ing at VBS Mu­tual Bank, which saw di­rec­tors al­legedly steal about R2bn. A dys­func­tional NPA in­creases the risk that per­pe­tra­tors will never face jus­tice.

This also comes at a time when the or­gan­i­sa­tion is ex­pected to pur­sue po­ten­tially com­plex and ex­pen­sive pros­e­cu­tions aris­ing from dis­clo­sures in the Zondo and Nu­gent com­mis­sions, as well as pri­vate sec­tor scan­dals such as the col­lapse of Stein­hoff In­ter­na­tional, which wiped off about R200bn of wealth for in­vestors.

The pros­e­cu­tions ser­vice was se­verely weak­ened dur­ing the Zuma era as the former pres­i­dent sought to in­crease his hold over the na­tion’s crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, partly to pro­tect him­self. One of the most con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions taken by Abra­hams, widely de­rided as a Zuma pup­pet, was an at­tempt to pros­e­cute then fi­nance min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han for fraud, an ac­tion that spooked the mar­kets and con­trib­uted to a col­lapse in the rand.

The NPA needed about R761.6m to fill its more than 1,000 va­cant posts, with R144m

of that ear­marked for the 244 “crit­i­cal posts”, Ra­maite said.

Mukoni Rat­shi­tanga, spokesper­son for jus­tice min­is­ter Michael Ma­sutha, said a tech­ni­cal team had been set up to ad­dress the bud­getary con­straints ex­pe­ri­enced across the jus­tice clus­ter. This team com­prises of­fi­cials from the jus­tice depart­ment, NPA, Le­galAid and the mag­is­tracy, and is aimed at find­ing ways of sav­ing costs and de­ter­min­ing what ser­vices can be shared across the clus­ter.

Busi­ness Day also un­der­stands that the en­tire jus­tice clus­ter has been hard hit by gov­ern­ment aus­ter­ity mea­sures, with court ser­vices only re­ceiv­ing R58m of the R300m they asked for, while Le­galAid is also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a sig­nif­i­cant bud­get short­fall. The fund­ing cri­sis at the NPA has been ex­ac­er­bated by mul­ti­ple chal­lenges to its de­ci­sions to pros­e­cute, most no­tably the per­ma­nent stay of pros­e­cu­tion case that Zuma in­tends to bring to stop his cor­rup­tion case.

Zuma, whose de­fence is, iron­i­cally, funded by the state, has asked the NPA to de­tail how much it has spent in try­ing to pros­e­cute him. His pre­vi­ous lawyers have ar­gued that those costs were a good rea­son to stop the pros­e­cu­tion.

The cri­sis at the NPA has in­ten­si­fied since 2015, when a full mora­to­rium on the fill­ing of posts was put into ef­fect. The sit­u­a­tion wors­ened when it lost more than 300 of­fi­cials from the 2016/2017 fis­cal year to the end of Septem­ber. That left it with a 19% va­cancy rate, ex­ac­er­bated by in­creased lev­els of ab­sen­teeism, Ra­maite said.

Pros­e­cu­tors, rep­re­sented by the So­ci­ety of State Ad­vo­cates and Pros­e­cu­tors of SA, raised this is­sue in a let­ter to Ramaphosa in Septem­ber, plead­ing for him to find a re­place­ment for Abra­hams.

So­ci­ety spokesper­son ad­vo­cate Eliveera du Plooy said the staffing cri­sis was be­com­ing des­per­ate and “there are re­ports” of smaller courts not be­ing able to op­er­ate due to a lack of pros­e­cu­tors.

The NPA in 2017 had a bud­get short­fall of R72.9m and its pro­gramme to train and hire re­cruits has been sus­pended for three years.

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