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Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Scorpions: 'Dangerous precedent'

News24 - 06/08/08

Cape Town - The origins of the legislation to disband the Scorpions had set a very dangerous precedent, the SA Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) said on Wednesday.

It was common knowledge that the ANC's Polokwane conference had resolved that the Scorpions be dissolved, SACBC parliamentary research director Mike Pothier told Parliament's justice and safety and security committees during public hearings on the legislation.

This was inappropriate and set a very dangerous precedent.

"It's never the task of a party, even a ruling party, and even one which has won 70% of the popular vote, to set government policy at this level of detail," he said.

The party's task was to request government to address specific problems in broad terms, not to issue directives.

"Otherwise, the next step is for a party conference to say [for example] from next year the rate of corporate tax will be 27%, and then the whole ministry of finance and everything else goes out of the window because the party has spoken on the issue. That's not how it should be."

Despite the reasons given by various politicians and others, the issue became a priority only after the conference resolution in December, Pothier said.

Core question 'already been decided'

While the technicalities of the two bills involved could be debated and discussed, the core question, the future of the Scorpions, had already been decided.

This set a dangerous precedent and the process did not appear to be particularly genuine.

The Constitution stated the legislative authority of the national sphere was vested in Parliament, not in the conference of the ruling party.

Pothier said public perception was, rightly or wrongly, that the traditional crime fighting forces had not been adequately successful in their task.

On the other hand, the public had the perception that the Scorpions had been extremely successful.

While this was debatable, there was no doubt that the public saw it that way.

"And consequently, just when the Scorpions appear to be on a roll conducting high profile investigations bringing high profile criminals and suspected criminals to prosecution, there's a move to scrap them, to dissolve them and replace them with something else."

The public was understandably upset about that, and asked was there not a long, thorough, and vigorous investigation under a judge not so long ago, which determined that the reasons for bringing the Scorpions into being all those years ago still pertained today?

"So people say why is it being scrapped? People are looking for a cogent answer, and most people think there has not been a cogent reason given, and in our view they are correct in saying that," Pothier said.

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