Batohi defends R314,000 spent on NPA investigative directorate head Hermione Cronje
National director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi has defended the cash spent on accommodation and flights for the National Prosecuting Authority's investigative directorate head Hermione Cronje.
Batohi said the expenditure was all above board.
She revealed that the NPA had spent R314,000 on flights, accommodation and car travel for Cronje, who has travelled between Cape Town and Pretoria on a weekly basis since her appointment by President Cyril Ramaphosa in May to head the new directorate.
Giving a breakdown of the costs to the portfolio committee on justice to which the NPA accounts, Batohi said that to date R106,000 had been spent on accommodation, R144,900 on flights and R64,000 on car hire.
EWN reported on Monday that Cronje was staying in luxury at a hotel in Pretoria.
But Batohi was adamant that there was nothing luxurious about the hotel. “She is staying in accommodation where if you walk in, you will probably see only government officials. It is a hotel in Pretoria at government rates. It's all above board,” she said.
Batohi said it had to be understood that Cronje was a mother with two young children, hence the need to travel between Cape Town and Pretoria.
“I know what it's like from personal experience, having done the King Commission in Cape Town 20 years ago and having two young children in Durban that I needed to deal with at the time.”
Batohi explained that Cronje was not flying business class, that her security detail had not yet been finalised and that she had a driver and a car at the NPA.
“It's all above board. If anything, we actually owe her more than what she's given," she said.
Ramaphosa appointed Cronje to head the new directorate, which is responsible for prosecuting high-level corruption and state capture cases.
ANC MP Richard Dyantyi had asked Batohi, who was leading an NPA team to account for the 2018/19 annual report, whether the media reports were true. He said it would be “unfortunate” if they were true, considering that the NPA is cash-strapped.
In her response, Batohi revealed that Cronje had taken a salary cut when she accepted the position. “She has actually taken on this position at great personal sacrifice. It's not easy and I know the impact this is having on her. She is also being paid a lot less than she was getting in private sector, but that is not an issue,” she said.
Batohi, who herself commenced her duties in February this year, was accounting for the authority's performance before her arrival. She described the 2018/19 financial year as having been characterised by unremarkable performance, with severe budgetary and resource constraints.
“The NPA at the time was also plagued with uncertainty regarding the position of the NDPP,” she said about her predecessor, Shaun Abrahams.
“There were allegations that he needed to deal with, but also the loss of credibility weighed very heavily on the organisation at the time, which is something we are working very hard on to actually rebuild,” she added.
The budget and resource constraints had also taken their toll on the welfare of prosecutors, other staff and the institution itself. This was evident in the high spend on employee wellness services, said Batohi.
She revealed to shocked MPs that in the year under review, the NPA was getting fewer cases coming through its system, which she said was a concern, considering that the crime stats were on the rise. The regional courts had recorded a decline of almost 20,000 enrolled cases compared to the previous financial year.
“If crime is increasing, we need to look at why are the number of cases that come to court are declining,” she said.
Batohi said the NPA and the police were having “a serious conversation” because the general sense was that they are losing the battle against organised crime. The authorities were struggling to get cases prosecuted, but had a high conviction rate for the cases that did go to prosecution.
Only 17 people were convicted for corruption offences involving amounts of more than R5m in the period under review, but a whopping 210 government officials were convicted for general corruption during the same period:
- 115 from national government departments;
- 27 from provincial departments;
- 46 from municipalities;
- 18 government agencies; and
- four from the NPA.
A total of R2.8bn was recovered from corruption cases where the amounts involved were more than R5m.