The government is looking to establish an institution that has both investigative and prosecutorial powers to fight corruption, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said.
Speaking during a question-and-answer session in Parliament on Thursday, Ramaphosa said this institution would be similar to the elite crime-fighting unit dubbed Scorpions, which was disbanded in 2008.
He said, “We are now gravitating towards having an institution that will have investigative powers and capability as well as prosecutorial powers when it comes to commercial crimes – what used to be called the Scorpions in the past.
“That is what the moment we have now of dealing with commercial malfeasance and corruption now requires. We are busy looking at how we will be able to bring that back to life and make sure that you are investigated and investigators immediately have the capability to prosecute so that there isn’t a big interregnum [between investigation and prosecution].”
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema asked Ramaphosa how he was going to re-establish the Scorpions without a conference resolution of the African National Conference (ANC), since disbanding the Scorpions was similarly a conference resolution.
The President however refused to be drawn into “party political conferences” and stuck to his guns. “The process of getting structures of government to work effectively to fight corruption has to be based on their functionality [and] capability, and if we find that there can be great functionality and capability in getting certain structures to work in a particular way, then we should be able to proceed to deal with that,” he said.
Ramaphosa also emphasised that his role is not to arrest, prosecute and jail people accused of corruption, adding that this would compromise South Africa’s democracy.
He said, “It is not the President’s duty to arrest people. The day you have a President who is going to go around arresting people, investigating them, prosecuting them [and] putting them in jail in orange overalls, then you have no democracy.
“The task of the President is to make sure that we strengthen institutions and we adhere to principles. And I even say that to members of my own party, and I say, ‘My comrades, my task as President of the Republic is not to go out and investigate this one and that one; it is to set up institutions that will do their work.'”
Ramaphosa cited a News24 article by political analyst JP Landman which he said outlined the various steps he has taken to strengthen law enforcement institutions in the two years he has been President.
He added that while this progress has not yet resulted in arrests of high-profile individuals accused of corruption, it signifies ongoing institutional reform because many of those institutions had been compromised and “captured.”