National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Annual Report 2008/09

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Justice and Correctional Services

18 November 2009
Chairperson: Mr N Ramatlodi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The National Prosecuting Authority reported on the achievement of targets set for each of it four programmes and then looked at the challenges it faced. One the major challenges that came out prominently was the matter of backlogs. The Portfolio Committee was not pleased with the large backlogs, case postponements, high vacancy rates and issues of discipline. Members wanted to know how the handing over from the Scorpions to the Hawks had gone. The NPA reported that some of its programmes such as Witness Protection Services were doing extremely well. In many areas, especially on the prosecutorial front, targets were achieved and in some areas exceeded. About delays in the Criminal Justice System and shortage of courtrooms, the NPA officials said some of the challenges they faced were not a result of their failure to act but rather matters dependent on another government department. On vacancies, the NPA said it was confident that it would meet its set target for reducing vacancy rates before the end of the current financial year. With regard to financial reporting, the NPA was warned to take seriously the recommendations by the Auditor General and abide by prescribed reporting guidelines.

Meeting report

Dr Khotso De Wee, NPA Chief Executive Officer (Acting), provided an overview of performance for the five sub-programmes falling under the jurisdiction of the NPA, these were Public Prosecutions, Office for Witness Protection, Directorate of Special Operations (which had since been disbanded), Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) and Support Services.

Public Prosecutions
An important performance indicator for Public Prosecutions was a commitment to reduce the case backlog by 32 608, and the actual target achieved was 42 495. The programme also sought to reduce the number of outstanding cases on the court roll. The target set was 186 374 and the actual figure reached was 234 483. On the conviction rate, the target conviction rate was 86% which it achieved: 86.3%. The conviction rate target in the regional magistrate courts was 73% which was reached: 73.7%. The number of cases finalised via diversion had a target of 417 765, and an actual 431 601 were recorded. An area which performed unsatisfactorily was the court preparation services. Here the aim was to appoint 40 officers who would be responsible for preparing cases to go to court. Unfortunately none of the officers were actually appointed.

Dr De Wee reported briefly on the performance of the established Special Commercial Crime Unit (SCCU). This was a unit that is mandated to prosecute complex commercial crimes emanating from the SAPS Commercial Crime Branches. It has its offices in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Bloemfontein. How this unit functioned is that the prosecutor got involved in the case from start of the investigation and co-locates with SAPS. In terms of the conviction rate, SCCU had set a target of 94% in the 2008/09 financial year and the actual target reached was 93.7%. This was n exceptional achievement, especially considering commercial crime cases were traditionally renowned for being extremely difficult to prosecute. Another branch closely linked with Public Prosecutions was the performance of the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs (SOCA) unit. This unit was specifically tasked with management and investigation of cases relating to sexual offences, domestic violence, human trafficking, maintenance offences and young offenders. The target set for this unit was 66% and the actual achieved was 66.7%. Dr De Wee reported that the SOCA unit, in partnership with EWLA of Ethiopia, had developed a cutting edge documentary on domestic violence, showcasing strides undertaken by the NPA towards reducing domestic violence incidences. The documentary was nominated in the category Best Short Documentary at the Los Angels Pan African Film Festival in January 2009. A total of 2 329 prosecutors and other related persons had been trained in respect of SOCA areas. Still closely linked to SOCA, seven additional Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) had been established, bringing the total to 17. Over 10 213 matters were reported to the TCCs.  The Priority Crimes Litigation Unit (PCLU) is another important unit which was created by presidential proclamation to manage investigations and prosecute crimes that impact on State security. Mr De Wee said the NPA boast the fact that a senior member of the PCLU is classified as 1 of only 15 international experts in nuclear terrorism. Within the PCLU, was the Missing Persons Task Team – which among its many tasks was to investigate apartheid related crimes. Part of the work that the task team had been involved with included exhumation of apartheid victim’s bodies such as the famous Mamelodi victims and other political activists who were returned to their families for reburial.

Witness Protection
This was another key component of the NPA. Its main function was to provide a support service to the Criminal Justice System by protection of threatened or intimidated witnesses and related persons who were required to testify in cases being prosecuted. With the objective of reducing the number of witnesses who abandoned the witness protection programme, the set target was reducing this by 24%, which was achieved by an actual 16.9%. There were no witnesses who were harmed or threatened while in the programme.

Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions)
Although now disbanded, Dr De Wee said there was a need to include the operations of the Scorpions in the NPA Annual Report because the unit was disbanded during the financial year under review. This was a unit specifically created to prosecute serious, complex and organised crimes and crimes of national interest which threaten democracy and the economy. Whereas the set target for conviction rate was set at 85%, the actual target reached was 98%. The target for the number of investigations finalised for this unit was 80% and the actual target achieved was 78%. Whereas the target for number of prosecutions finalised was 50%, the actual achievement was 64%.

Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU)
This unit was created in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act of 1998. Its main purpose was to seize assets that were the proceeds of crime or that had been involved in the commission of an offence. The AFU made 275 seizures against a target of 255. This showed a 23% increase from the previous financial year. A total of 277 cases concerning confiscation and forfeiture orders were completed against a target of 250. R320 million rand had been realised against a target of R330 million. The case between the State and Mr Schabir Shaik was highlighted as one of the major battles the AFU had to fight in court that financial year which it successfully won, managing to seize assets worth over R39 million.

Despite its remarkable successes, the NPA was facing a number of challenges. One of those was in the area of disciplinary matters. A total of 74 disciplinary maters had been conducted during 2008/09, of which 35 cases were still pending. The types of misconduct cases that were most prevalent included corruption, fraud, defeating the ends of justice and dishonesty. Nine employees had been suspended, one was transferred as a precaution, 38 pending external disputes, 12 appeals and 10 cases were being dealt with in the Labour or High Courts. Other challenges included lack of qualified staff to deal with issues of finance and reporting. The Auditor-General had not given the NPA a clean bill of health in its handling of financial matters. Other challenges were: there was a shortage of accommodation in the lower courts, a lack of control over the full process throughout the value chain, the reduction of dedicated courts for sexual offences and complex commercial crime prosecutions and the high rate of vacancies.

The Chairperson said the issue of vacancies was worrying and could be the cause for delays and constant postponement of matters because prosecutors were swamped with work. He asked the NPA officials what they were doing to arrest the problem.

Responding to the question on vacancies, Advocate Mokotedi Mpshe, Acting NPA National Director, said the NPA had moved from a vacancy rate of 27% to about 17%. In figures, that meant over 600 posts needed to be filled before the end of the financial year.

Ms M Smuts (DA) asked what the reason behind the drop in conviction rates. She said the annual report showed a drop from 75% to 61%. She asked if the drop had anything to do with the disbanding of the Scorpions. She asked how the process of handing over the Scorpions cases to the new Hawks had gone.

Dr Khotso replied that the question on lower conviction rates was a difficult one to answer. The question could best be answered by the criminal justice system as a whole because in the chain leading to conviction or acquittal, there were certain aspects which were beyond the jurisdiction of the NPA and those might have had an impact in the drop in conviction rates.

The question of handing over to the Hawks was answered by Mr Gordon Hollamby, Executive Manager in the Finance and Procurement Division. Assets worth R2.4 million had since been successfully transferred. There was the issue of firearms transfer from the Scorpions to SAPS. However, SAPS said that they had no use for those firearms and those were waiting to be destroyed. Other process which had been done successfully was the transfer of property, some subject to leases that were due to expire.

Mr J Jeffery (ANC) first raised a complaint that there were several discrepancies in the oral presentation given to them and the NPA presentation document. On the vacancies, Mr Jeffery asked the NPA to give a figure which would be its target and which Parliament will hold them to.

Mr G Ndabandaba (ANC) asked how commercial crimes such as illegal mining were being handled. How was staff morale particularly in the midst of nationwide strikes in the country. His question was specifically on the issue of remuneration and whether the NPA had a good and competitive retention strategy.

Adv Mpshe replied he was waiting to get a full report from the head of AFU on the matter of illegal mining and he promised to give a proper answer when that had happened.

On remuneration, Adv Mpshe said the fact that the country had not experienced any stay-aways or go slows by prosecutors was testimony to the fact that morale levels were high. Remuneration packages were constantly being reviewed to ensure that they remained competitive and were able to attract and retain talented individuals.

Mr M Gungubele (ANC) said most of the information was given in the form of percentages and such tended to conceal the real issues and often painted a false picture that things were going well even when numbers were so small that alarm bell ought to be ringing. He said it was worrying to realise there was such a large number of outstanding cases. He expressed concern about the drop in number of courts that specifically dealt with SOCA matters.

Dr Khotso said discussions were at an advanced stage with the Minister of Justice to ensure the retention of specialised courts such as those dealing with SOCA matters. Be that as it may, such a drop would not affect the running of those cases because they were considered by ordinary courts.

Mr Jeffery raised a concern over the case backlogs. He said it was clear that the targets were not met and further that such delays often compromised the smooth running of the Criminal Justice System. He asked what the status of the so-called Thuthuzela Care Centres was and whether any progress had been made to realise set targets.

Ms K Van Rensburg, Executive Manager, Strategy, said the issue of TCCs needed all stakeholders to work with one another towards a common goal if real progress was to be attained. The set target of establishing 20 TCCs was very achievable if everybody pulled in the same directions including all stakeholders.

On backlogs, Adv Mpshe said this was another example where his Department alone could not answer for this alone or take all the blame because there were many factors that influenced backlogs, some of which had nothing to do with the NPA. One problem causing backlogs was the shortage of accommodation and courts in general. This was a direct responsibility of the Department of Justice which his department could only do a little to resolve.

Ms Smuts referred to the 40 court preparation officials that had not been recruited and wanted to know the reasons for such a dismal failure.

Ms Van Rensburg replied that the reason was largely due to budget constraints. It was an open secret that the country was in a recession and as such many government departments had not received enough of a budget as promised. When in came down to prioritising the resources at hand, the preparatory officials were put on hold.

Mr Jeffery referred to the specialised task team that was dealing with, among other things, apartheid victims. He asked how many people who did not receive amnesty had been prosecuted. He further suggested that the issue of exhuming bodies did not fall within the ambit of the NPA and that they could use such personnel in other areas where there was a shortage.

Advocate Mpshe said the process of prosecuting those who did not receive amnesty was moving very slowly and thus far they had only dealt with cases involving plea bargains. He said in other cases, the individuals subject to prosecution often went to the High Court to challenge the decisions not to grant them amnesty and that often dragged the process. The other reason was due to the fact that they received dockets from police which were not properly investigated. Hence they could not immediately go ahead with the prosecutions and as a result some of the matters had prescribed. An example of matters being taken on review after a decision had been taken to prosecute was the Motherwell Four cases which had dragged on for four years.

Mr Jeffery said as far as he knew murder cases did not prescribe and further he felt the NPA should prioritise crimes that were serious so that they could avoid the possibility the prescription of serious matters.

Ms N Sithole said the NPA should do more to improve on their deficiencies with regard to its matters of finance. She asked the NPA to be as frank as possible with the Portfolio Committee because if they were not, it would be difficult for the Committee to assist them from the wrath of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts. She asked the NPA to take time and provide the Committee with issues and suggestions on how the Committee could help, be it on matters of finance or anything of that nature.

Mr Jeffery said it was worrying that the presentation said nothing about the handing over of matters from the erstwhile Scorpions to the new Directorate of Priority Crimes Unit. He said the Committee would want to know, at a later stage, answers to questions such as how many cases were handed over and how many cases were compromised as a result.

Advocate Mpshe replied that the handing over had gone well despite a few challenges. About 288 investigative stage cases had been handed over to the Hawks and there was a high level of cooperation between NPA prosecutors the SAPS investigators.

On the disciplinary matters front, Mr Jeffery told the NPA officials that nothing had been said about dismissals as a result of misconduct. He wanted to know if there had been any officials who had committed acts of misconduct that warranted dismissal.

Dr Khotso referred him to the page 163 of the Annual Report which contained the figures of how many dismissals due to misconduct had been reported in 2008/09.

The meeting was adjourned.

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