Scorpions part of new unit: Mbeki
Shaun Benton15 February 2008
President Thabo Mbeki has moved to allay fears that South Africa's crime-fighting capacity will be diminished by the government's decision to absorb the specialised unit set up to fight organised crime - the Directorate of Special Operations, popularly known as the Scorpions - into the police service.
Replying to the debate on his state of the nation address in Parliament on Thursday, Mbeki said that, rather than simply dissolving the Scorpions, which fall under the Department of Justice, all specialised investigators who focused on organised crime in South Africa were to be brought "under one roof".
This would result in the creation of a larger specialised unit dedicated to fighting organised crime that would have "more personnel and resources and capacity than currently exists in the Scorpions."
The personnel making up this new "super-unit" would be drawn from the Scorpions, the Organised Crime Unit of the South African Police Service (SAPS), "and perhaps other institutions in our system of governance".
Mbeki said the new unit would continue to be guided by the expertise of members of the National Prosecuting Authority and the country's intelligence services, "ensuring that its operations are both prosecution- and intelligence-driven, to continue the history of the high conviction rate of the Scorpions".
The new unit would also "serve as a referral body, enabling it to focus on the most complicated and the most pernicious instances of organised crime that will be referred to it by other formations in the criminal justice system".
It would thus continue to play "exactly the same role for which the Scorpions were established".
The President added that the transition to a new, larger unit would not affect the salaries of the Scorpions' investigators who, because of their extensive training and location within the National Prosecuting Authority under the Department of Justice, have tended to earn higher salaries than those of the their nearest equivalents in the police.
Police 'in no way inferior'
At the same time, Mbeki defended the integrity of the country's police service, saying the SAPS would remain the "pre-eminent and unequalled formation in our country that confronts crime daily, including organised crime.
"The suggestion that the police service is nothing more than a junior and inferior formation relative to the [Directorate of Special Operations] is absolutely wrong in the extreme.
"The SAPS is made up of patriotic men and women who have, over the years to date, demonstrated an unwavering commitment even to give their lives to guarantee the safety and security of all our citizens."
The creation of the new organised crime-fighting unit, Mbeki said, would be part of the ongoing and "complex" reorganisation of South Africa's criminal justice system as a whole, a process that began last year and which would "affect a number of institutions that belong within the executive arm of government".
The government would shortly table in Parliament a proposal for the reorganisation of the country's criminal justice system that would create a broad, cohesive, interlinked and cooperative front against crime.
This proposal would cover more than the Scorpions, and would address "the important issue of the relationship between the reconstituted specialist institution to fight organised crime on the one hand, and the intelligence establishment on the other, including the National Intelligence Agency, the National Communications Centre, the Financial Intelligence Centre and the South African Secret Service, as well as Customs".
The criminal justice system would be revamped to establish "a seamless interconnection between investigations and arrests, prosecutions and sentencing and imprisonment and rehabilitation," Mbeki said.
All these changes would be informed by "the unwavering determination to ensure that we strengthen the capacity of our law enforcement agencies to intensify the war against organised crime, and under no circumstances to weaken it."