18/04/2017 07:05 SAST | Updated 19/04/2017 06:12 SAST

The Ntlemeza Fiasco Is Just One Example Of Why The Hawks Are Failing

With sub-standard conviction rates, the leadership battle at the Hawks is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the poor performance of the anti-corruption unit.

Berning Ntlemeza
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Berning Ntlemeza

It was nothing short of embarrassing. The head of the Hawks, Berning Ntlemeza, receiving a dressing down by members of Parliament in the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) for being unprepared at the meeting.

Ntlemeza, still in his post at the time, also tried to account for a 30% success rate which was all the government's anti-corruption task force had to show for itself.

Since being established in 2009, after its predecessor the Scorpions was dissolved in 2008, the Hawks have had a rough time of it. The force underwent a massive restructuring, moving from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to the police, and three court rulings have tried to bolster its political independence.

Allegations of political interference have, however, not gone away, and the Hawks have not performed nearly as well as its predecessor.

To add to its woes, its former head Ntlemeza is refusing to leave his post after being found to be a man who lacks the intelligence and qualities needed for the job by a court. A court had ruled that his appointment was invalid.

At that Scopa meeting in late 2016, it was revealed that R10-billion's worth of corruption and fraud was allegedly uncovered by the team. But this was not enough.

ANC MP Vincent Smith quipped: "Can I refer to page 11 of the presentation, Lieutenant-General. You say that the total number of persons convicted is 128, turn three pages later the total number of government officials convicted since 2014 to date is 399. Please explain that to me."

And there are allegations of suspicious activity, including one instance where the Hawks refused to investigate allegations of massive corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa).

In a written reply to a Parliamentary question by the DA, the Hawks revealed that there had been a 60% decline in arrests and an 83% drop in conviction rates, at the end of 2015.

The DA pointed out that during the 2010/11 financial year, there were 14793 arrests and 7037 convictions. But four years later, there had been only 5847 arrests and 1176 convictions.

The Scorpions, by contrast, had high success rates, with a conviction rate of between 82% and 94%.

But the Hawks' performance aside, it is the political neutrality of the organisation which has always been questionable.

Johan Burger, of the Institute for Security Studies, (ISS) has pointed to the Hawks' investigation into the Sars "rogue unit", which saw former finance minister Pravin Gordhan being targeted by the Hawks, before the investigation quietly went away.

"Another [example] relates to the ongoing attempts by the head of the Hawks, Berning Ntlemeza, to get rid of Johan Booysen, the Hawks head in KwaZulu-Natal, in spite of repeated court findings in favour of Booysen," he said.