The Future of the National Prosecuting Authority: Experts discuss challenges and solutions
The National Prosecuting Authority has come under increasing criticism in recent years. Among the reasons for criticism are the declining rate in the number of cases being prosecuted, and the perceived politicisation of the institution - especially after current NDPP, Shaun Abrahams, recently withdrew charges of fraud against Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan. Are these criticisms accurate? And what can be done about them? What is the future of the NPA?
Those questions were addressed on 23 November 2016 by a distinguished panel in an armchair discussion at the Centre for the Book, hosted by UWC’s Dullah Omar Institute - and specifically the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative.
Prof Nico Steytler (SA Research Chairs Initiative Chair in Multilevel Government, Law and Policy, UWC) led a discussion that provided an overview and analysis of the development of the NPA, its prosecution and conviction history, and more, as well as the many problems facing NPA Directors - from autonomy to job security.
Advocate Vusi Pikoli (Western Cape Police Ombudsman and former National Director of Public Prosecutions) backed calls for an oversight mechanism to monitor the activities of the NPA, noting that political interference can impede the institution’s good work. Prof Pierre De Vos (Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance, UCT) explained that there is no real independence at the NPA - despite independence requirements. And Jean Redpath (UWC CSPRI researcher) noted that NPA conviction rates are up, but most crimes prosecuted are not for serious crimes like rape.
Adv Pikoli, who was suspended by former President Thabo Mbeki in 2007 after he refused to withdraw fraud and corruption charges against the late former Police Commissioner, Jackie Selebi, mentioned that the same kinds of political reasons he was removed from office have affected other NDPPs. Since being founded in 1998, the NPA has had nine directors, five of them in an acting capacity.
To change perceptions of bias at the NPA, Pikoli noted, perhaps the first step would be to change the process of appointing an NDPP - and to make it open and transparent. This would not be to take away the president’s power to appoint an NDPP, but to make it transparent, and thus more credible.
In closing, Pikoli said that the public should worry more about decisions not to prosecute - at least in a prosecution, the court has the final say.