High-level corruption cases taking longer than thought to deal with
The NPA’s Hermione Cronje says building the directorate’s cyber capability and data analytics capacity need to be done first
It has taken a lot longer than anticipated for the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) investigative directorate to develop the capability to deal with complex, serious and high-level corruption cases, its head, Hermione Cronje, said in parliament on Wednesday.
There has been mounting concern over the long delay in bringing to court those implicated in the looting of the state on a huge scale over many years. The directorate was set up in April 2019 with a five-year lifespan with the specific purpose of dealing with high-level corruption cases.
MPs were concerned that no cases have yet been brought before the courts. DA justice spokesperson Glynnis Breytenbach was also concerned about the limited five-year lifespan of the investigative directorate and its ability to handle corruption cases within this time.
Cronje told MPs's justice and correctional services committee that critical issues needed to be solved first, such as building the directorate’s cyber capability and data analytics capacity in order to establish evidence.
“There are no quick fixes, no short cuts,” Cronje said.
She appeared before the committee with national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi, who said that even well-resourced and sophisticated jurisdictions abroad took 5-9 years to bring about very complex corruption cases.
Batohi said there was so much corruption across the government including at municipal level and in state-owned enterprises that it was necessary to prioritise.
“We are developing criteria so that we are able to manage this huge workload in terms of corruption,” Batohi said.
Cronje was keenly aware of the nation’s high expectation of results of the directorate but cautioned that there was lot of preparatory work that had to be done first and that just jumping in would be foolish.
The directorate had spent the first six months cherry-picking a few cases to bring them to court to make an impact but had concluded that this was not a feasible approach as it was necessary to have a legally sustainable case.
“It is taking a lot longer than I anticipated,” she said. “We have had to recognise that unless we solve a couple of critical issues we are not going to make progress.”
Cronje said there was no smoking gun in high-level corruption involving politicians and businesspeople. The evidence was found in electronic and cellphone communications and offshore bank transfers that required a cyber capability the directorate did not have, but has started to acquire.
The legal framework for dealing with this data also made things difficult. Data analytics capacity to analyse reams of bank data was also not available. Months had been spent on seconding the required capacity from other state agencies.
She said that there were numerous forensic investigations into corruption by other institutions and the directorate had to ensure that the evidence produced was watertight. International co-operation was also vital as the corruption suspects, much of the proceeds of the crimes and a lot of the evidence were abroad. Integrity challenges had also hamstrung the organisation.
Batohi said when she took office a year ago, the NPA suffered from a crisis in leadership, serious budgetary problems, high levels of vacancy and low morale, and the nine months to December were spent dealing with those issues. The appointment of deputy directors of national public prosecutions would happen very soon.
“Even though it is grinding, the wheels are turning,” she said. “Things are moving in the right direction.”
Batohi said people were keen to see prosecutions of corruption cases, but to do that required that the state institutions that were seriously damaged over many years be rebuilt. The past year had been dedicated to strengthening the NPA and focusing on integrity.
Technology modernisation and an office of complaints and ethics was planned. The NPA has 4,292 employees, 1,351 vacancies and has advertised 921 posts.
Batohi noted that 75 corruption cases involving more than R7bn had achieved a level of success.
The investigative directorate has been allocated R372m for the next three years. The NPA as a whole was allocated R1.2bn over this period with R369m for 2020/2021, R412.7m for 2021/2022 and R444.3m for 2022/2023. Batohi said this allocation had boosted staff morale in the NPA.