24.11.2009

Zuma to Tread Carefully in Choice of New Head for NPA

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma -- whose prerogative it is to appoint a new head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) -- is likely to proceed carefully when replacing Vusi Pikoli.

The appointment process would have to avoid a dogfight to avert institutional collapse but, more importantly, whoever Zuma eventually appoints, the candidate must signal the independence of the embattled NPA, senior officials told Business Day.

The officials said the most important factor to consider in making such an appointment was the NPA's prosecutorial independence from the government.

Equally important is that the new NPA boss should enjoy the respect of those within the institution, especially at executive management level.

The NPA's reputation for acting without fear or favour has been mangled, especially after it was revealed that its decision to charge Zuma again (after the case was thrown out of court ) was improperly interfered with by persons outside the institution.

The NPA's independence has long been under scrutiny from the ruling party and opposition parties, many of which accused the NPA of buckling under political pressure when it dropped the case against the president.


It is understood that the government would prefer an outsider to take over the reins at the NPA, to signal a fresh start and a decisive break with anyone who could be tainted by association with the past.

Buy-in from the relevant parties including Justice Minister Jeff Radebe would be another key consideration. This means proper and thorough consultation with Radebe, given that he is the minister responsible for the NPA.

Pikoli differed with Brigitte Mabandla, the former justice minister, and was axed from his post over his decision to prosecute disgraced former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, who is on trial for corruption.

Another consideration in the process to appoint a successor is to ensure that the acting head of the NPA, Mokotedi Mpshe, in the event he is not given the post full time, gets to leave the institution with "his dignity intact". Mpshe has been standing in since Pikoli was suspended and presided over the institution at the time when it withdrew the state's more than seven-year-long corruption probe of Zuma.

Zuma is likely to appoint some one he trusts implicitly to be the new prosecutions chief. Several names have been mentioned as possible candidates. These include African National Congress national executive committee member Ngoako Ramatlhodi; Muzi Mkhize, a former member of Zuma's legal team; and the head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, Willie Hofmeyr. (South Scan)

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