The new broom is sweeping clean

Kumbirai Hodzi
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is a critical agency in the whole architecture of the State in the sense that it is crucial in the administration of everyday justice and in the administration of the criminal justice system, and also ensuring that society remains cohesive.

If we do not do those things, then we open ourselves to anarchy.

Where people become cynical of our justice system, they either resort to self-help or they withdraw from participating in public institutions.

For the State to function, people must have faith in our institutions and the NPA is one of those institutions.

We are moving away from the perception where cynicism, by citizens who regard that there is a class of people who are untouchable or beyond the reach of law, was the order of the day.

Everybody is equal before the law and operates under our set of laws no matter their social or political standing.

We have already made massive achievements in a very short time: we have managed to reorient everybody, especially the technocrats — the prosecutors — to be conscious of the role they play.

There is a level of professionalism now which you can discern when you come into this building (NPA Headquarters at Corner House in Harare) because we have put in place new systems and new controls to ensure professionalism and a rigorous sense of ethics and integrity in all of our officers.

And there is continuous training as far as that is concerned.

For example, things that may appear simple, like coming to work on time —now, people are really coming to work on time. People are starting to dress as professionals.

Those are simple things which, because we had allowed laxity to creep into our ranks, were not being done.

I have a new guy here who is in charge of enforcing those standards.

The prosecutors carry themselves in a manner befitting their office now. There is no fraternising anymore; it is one of the rules that we have put in place that here at Corner House, not just anybody can come into this building.

There is a rigorous ban on accused persons coming here, unless in the company of their lawyer and the investigating officer.

Further, when handling a matter now, there will be a minimum of three serious prosecutors as counter-measures and counter-controls.

This is for serious matters that include commercial offences and serious crimes. And every matter of corruption is regarded as a serious offence, especially if involves abuse of office.

Why those controls?

We want to ensure that for trials, there is high quality evidence, the dockets that we produce are of such a sufficiently high quality level that we are assured of conviction.

We have put in place motions of movements of dockets: high-profile corruption case dockets are no longer supposed to stay with a prosecutor or in the office for an inordinate period of time.

We are giving ourselves three months to ensure that everything is in order and trial dates are set; everything, within, that period is set up and the docket is finished and ready for prosecution.

Prosecutions must also be continuous; there must be no long remands, even trial dates.

Periods of trial — depending on the case, the complexity of the matter and the quality and length of evidence — we are setting three days and four days.

It’s no longer the case where you remand a person for trial and then you come for trial and the matter spills over and is rolled over to the following month.

Trials must now be completed in the shortest possible time, and long remands, unless there are compelling reasons, are avoided.

Presidential Prosecutorial Unit

The Presidential Prosecutorial Unit, which is led by director Thabani Mpofu, has shown immense dedication. They are working 24 hours on cases every day.

The unit has been working hard and has brought in, even, new cases and we are assured of having a very high clearance rate.

They are looking mainly at high-level economic crimes, including corruption cases.

They have started looking at cases of the so-called land barons, who have abused land, including peri-urban land.

What we have done is we have put in a unit to working together with them in shadowing the Judge (Tendai) Uchena Commission.

(President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed Justice Uchena to head the Commission of Inquiry into Sale of State Land in February 2018. The commission is probing sale of State land in and around urban areas since 2005 and has 12 months, from day of appointment, to conclude its inquiry. Other commissioners are Andrew Mlalazi, Steven Chakaipa, Tarisai Mutangi, Heather Chingono, Vimbai Nyemba and Petronella Musarurwa. — Editor’s Note).

Already, certain high-level names have come up in the irregular allocation of land and, together with the police, they are investigating those cases.

We already have cases here that have been brought to us and more are coming. I can assure you that you will see them coming to the courts very, very soon.

Right now, I know the Presidential Prosecutorial Unit has got two dockets which have come and we are looking at the cogency of the evidence and if there are any gaps in those papers.

It’s a matter of only days before those guys are brought before the courts.

The unit is dealing with all matters, including those of high-level abuse of office.

There are plenty of dockets which are coming in involving all sorts of economic crimes. They are looking at the cases of those guys.

If you remember the issue of externalisation of foreign currency, where the President gave an amnesty that they must come out clean; those who came out clean did. And they are now looking at possible prosecution of those guys who never came out clean, as it were.

They are also looking at issues of illicit awarding of tenders; they are looking at it.

The most important matter is that they have their own diagnostics in the judiciary and the way justice has been done; going over into a number of years and some of the cases where there were suspicious acquittals could be reopened.

Low conviction rates

We are not going to lay blame at any office or institution.

We are carrying out a thorough introspection where we are examining our practices and systems.

It is diagnostic work that is being carried out in a thorough and very objective manner; it’s a post-mortem that is very brutal.

Before we blame some other agency, what we are doing is strengthening where we have identified shortcomings and addressing those issues in a manner which raises our professionalism.

Because, at the end of day, the quality of work we produce must be beyond reproach and it’s a matter that we are interrogating with all the stakeholders.

If the blame mainly has been on the quality of prosecutions, we are currently addressing this through rigorous training of prosecutors, because no matter how experienced you are, you need retraining in new techniques.

NPA corruption

We are carrying out diagnostics and this issue is not something that we will sweep under the carpet; we take it very seriously. For us to be able to do our work, we will need certain levels of ethics and integrity and the first port of call is to ensure that there is zero tolerance to corruption at the NPA.

Once you compromise the very heart of the administration of the criminal justice system, you would have defeated the whole administration of justice.

What we have done is, now we have a no-nonsense approach to any incidences of corruption and a fair number of measures brought into place are deliberately designed to ensure there is elimination of corruption.

Because when you have three or more prosecutors working on a case, it is very difficult to corrupt them all.

And when the quality of work which we demand from prosecutors is of such a high quality, it will be difficult to be compromised.

And also the monitoring and measuring that we are using is that there must be a minimal rate of acquittals, because for every acquittal, now we have an office that carries out a post-mortem to look at what went wrong and why did things go wrong.

There is a system now of interrogating and coming up with case scenarios to see where did things go wrong.

We are no longer just shelving matters. We now identify gaps and weaknesses, and measures are put in place immediately to rectify those issues.

 

Mr Kumbirai Hodzi is the Acting Prosecutor-General. He was speaking to The Sunday Mail Senior Reporter Lincoln Towindo in Harare last week

 

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