Shock as Nxasana inquiry goes ahead

Johannesburg – Three critical organs in the fight against crime and corruption are in leadership crisis after the Presidency announced on Saturday an inquiry into the fitness for office of National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana, first announced in July last year, would proceed.

With the resignation last month of Special Investigating Unit (SIU) head Vas Soni after a year-and-a-half stint, and after an 18-month period in which the unit operated without a head as well as the suspension in December of Hawks boss Anwa Dramat, the country’s criminal justice system is now reeling from sustained instability at the top.

The SA Revenue Service (Sars) is also in turmoil after deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and head of strategic planning Peter Richer were both suspended over the existence of an allegedly unauthorised intelligence unit.

Nxasana was appointed at the same time as Soni, 16 months ago, after the position had been vacant for an extended period following the removal of President Jacob Zuma’s first pick, Menzi Simelane.

Less than a year after his appointment, Zuma told Nxasana of his intention to suspend him pending the outcome of a probe into his fitness for office after it emerged he had not been granted a security clearance because of a 1985 murder case and a reckless driving charge.

But a defiant Nxasana vowed to resist attempts to remove him as he had been acquitted of the murder on grounds of self-defence and the charges in the reckless driving case had been withdrawn. Nxasana was found fit to be admitted as an attorney to the high court after disclosing his murder acquittal.

He filed an urgent application at the Pretoria High Court in September seeking an interdict to stop Zuma from suspending him before he had been provided with full details of the allegations against him and given a chance to make further representations.

On Saturday, presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said Zuma would proceed with the inquiry and had requested it “proceed expeditiously in order to resolve such a matter which is no doubt of paramount public interest”.

It was not clear if Nxasana has now been suspended because Maharaj said further details would be made public only at a later stage and Nxasana could not be reached on his cellphone.

The National Prosecuting Authority Act allows the president to suspend the NDPP “pending such inquiry into his or her fitness to hold such office as the president deems fit”.

Grounds for removal of the NDPP include misconduct, continued ill-health or incapacity.

* Meanwhile, the legal to-and-fro over the suspension of Dramat continues, with the Pretoria High Court set to pronounce Monday on an application by the Helen Suzman Foundation for an order compelling Police Minister Nathi Nhleko to allow him to return to work.

The court has already found his suspension to be invalid and set it aside but Nhleko is seeking leave to appeal.

Both Dramat and Nxasana have claimed they are being targeted because of their involvement, or purported involvement, in high-profile cases that have earned them powerful enemies.

Constitutional Law Professor Shadrack Gutto said yesterday it was worrying when the NPA and its leadership had been “wobbling and in many ways for a very long time in a crisis because of the uncertainty around the appropriate people whenever they try do their work properly”.

“That is very serious, particularly the NPA, which is the overall institution responsible for prosecution and related organs that are responsible for the investigation of serious crimes, such as the Hawks.

“There again, we have people removed because of alleged rendition of Zimbabweans, which is of course serious.

“Why is all of this only coming out now, when their heads are challenging the moves to remove them and these institutions are already shrouded with uncertainty? Is it because they are investigating crimes by high-profile people?” Gutto asked.

Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution executive secretary Lawson Naidoo shared Gutto’s sentiments.

“Absolutely, there is a crisis within the criminal justice sector in South Africa and that compromises our capacity to deal with the challenges of crime and corruption,” Naidoo said.

“Over a period of time now there have been quite strong allegations, and certainly there are public perceptions, that institutions of state have been abused for political purposes and political gain and undue influence is being exerted on key institutions of state to further particular political agendas.

“This calls into question the capacity of those institutions to execute their mandates and also undermines the very essence of our constitution.”

He questioned why no terms of reference for the inquiry into Nxasana had been announced, seven months after Zuma first warned him of his intention to suspend the NPA boss.

While there was a lot of rhetoric about the government’s commitment to the fight against corruption, there was little to show for it.

Gutto said the Zuma presidency needed to examine why such instability had characterised its tenure, pointing also to the turmoil to be found at the SA Revenue Service.