Eradicating corruption one detail at a time

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

By Sihle Manda

Hawks National Head, Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya, is a man of immense attention to detail.

Attention to detail is needed if one is to nab those involved in crime.

His deep disdain for corruption is evident in the Hawks’ 94% conviction rate of prosecuted cases.

Known formally as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), the Hawks have since foundation in 2009 been responsible for combating, investigating and preventing national priority crimes.

These are in the areas of serious organised crime, serious commercial crime and serious corruption.

Lebeya is most passionate about conquering the latter, as he believes it eliminates any chance of the former two occurring.

Sitting at the edge of his four-chair oval ochre board table at his modest office in Silverton, Pretoria, Lebeya reflects on his tenure and the journey that still lies ahead.

The scale of the office’s work is the polar opposite of the calm demeanour of the man who was appointed to the top post in May 2018.

He recalls how he assessed the workings of the directorate and implemented the necessary changes.

“You first have to do the assessment. Then you do the implementation after the assessment. You then do the monitoring I designed and called AIM. [In that way], you don't find that you move into a new environment and start making changes as if you know what the weaknesses and strengths are.”

Lebeya has come a long way since the days he took his oath of office as a police officer in Polokwane (then Pietersburg) in the former Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo province).

Having joined the police service with just a matric certificate in 1984, Lebeya now holds a Doctorate in Criminal Law, with a specialisation in organised crime.

Asked why he pursued academics when he entered the service, he says that when off duty, officers are tempted to indulge in unsavoury activities.

“Our members are getting attacked at taverns and the like when they are not sober. I decided to choose something else. I love reading and this is what I enjoy. I decided that let me improve my qualifications so that when I enforce law, the people I interact with must not undermine me.

“That is why I decided to [do the] police diploma.”

This is something that he advocates for in the DPCI.

When he first set foot in his office in June 2018, the soft-spoken General, who became an attorney in 2015, recollects discovering a raft of irregularities that needed rectification without haste.

“There were officials that were appointed not in line with the law. First, all the provincial heads (and deputy national head) were sort of given a permanent appointment, to retire when they reached 60. That is not in line with the Act,” he tells SAnews.

According to the Hawks boss, the Police Act requires that such appointments be on non-renewable contracts of seven to 10 years.

To remedy the anomaly, the matter was discussed with the affected staff and an agreement reached with the majority of those that were appointed, having since left office.

“There are new appointments that have been done. Six provincial heads are new, [it is] only three that I found in the office,” he said.

With the latter, he says, contracts will expire on 31 December 2022, and processes to appoint successors are already afoot. This was done to avoid posts remaining vacant for lengthy durations and to allow for “smooth transitions”.

“To fill the posts takes time because they have to be advertised and selections need to be made. After that, there is vetting because all SMS [senior management service] appointments can’t be appointed without top-secret security clearance.

“We have advertised the posts and [have] already done the selection. What is left is the vetting process, as well as the Cabinet process.”

Caseload

Turning his attention to the directorate’s caseload, Lebeya lays bare the intricate work investigators are tasked with.

“The total value of our cases is R1 574 874 806 355.57 (R1.5 trillion)”.

With a staff complement of 2 672, the DPCI has the unenviable task of investigating the over 22 477 cases clogging its system. Since 2018, the DPCI has arrested 12 000 suspects identified in cases currently before the courts.

The cases involve 23 519 suspects. While 11 159 suspects were yet to be arrested, 12 360 had already been apprehended.

Of the cases under investigation, 1 998 have reached decision stage, where the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is applying its mind.

Over this period, the Hawks have secured 4 447 convictions across the country.

Taken aback by the rate of corruption in local government, the Lieutenant General set up the National Clean Audit Task Team (NCATT) shortly after commencing his duties.

The NCATT has a few high profile cases pending before courts across the country.

Building confidence

The directorate has several dedicated task teams investigating various matters, including infrastructure damage, cash-in-transits and narcotics.

Advocate Lebeya’s zero-tolerance stance against corruption is a principle he strives to instil in staff on a daily basis. He also insists that probes be conducted without fear, favour or prejudice, and that they be “fair and honest”.

“People must have that confidence [to say] I know that when a matter is with the Hawks, we know they will do the right work. We must not only ourselves say that it is an elite unit, people must be able to see it.

“To be able to achieve that, we obviously have to build it. I don't want to leave this organisation as an empty shell, which is why I need to capacitate it. When I leave, my successor will find it better than how I found it.”

Early morning and late nights are the order of the day for the career police manager.

“For more than 38 years, one has just been thinking policing,” says the man whose day begins at 4 am.

“There is actually no day where there is no success and you have to be kept informed. You can't wait to hear from the media, so a day is always busy. There is no rest – Sunday to Monday,” he says of his 18-hour days.

To stay abreast of operational matters and to ensure that sullied narratives do not sway investigations, Lebeya randomly requests to be briefed by his respective commanders on certain cases.

From his office, the advocate keeps an eagle eye on the priority cases that he categorises from the top 100, 30 and 10, saying due to the seriousness of the matters, “they cannot be treated like ordinary cases”.

The General bemoans the soaring rates of corruption at local government level.

“That is where service delivery must be happening. I'm not sure if it is incompetence of those that are given the responsibility of managing these municipalities [or not]. Officials are involved in criminality.

“The municipal managers, the chief financial officers, it appears… that they know that [their] time in office is limited and by the time it comes [to an end], they must have gotten something. [At times] I doubt the commitment to service delivery,” he explains.

Addressing challenges

On the period it takes to finalise matters, the directorate works to complete its investigations timeously but due to prosecutorial and court challenges, these take long to bring to a close and secure convictions.

“When the population grows, every other thing needs to grow in line with it,” he says, referring to court, prosecutorial and policing capabilities to deal with societal demands.

There are more than 1 998 cases that the prosecutors must read through and make decisions.

“The very same prosecutors are telling you that [they] are in court from this date to this date [with a certain matter]. 

“Are you expecting the same prosecutor to go and deal with other cases when they are dealing with this one? They will get confused. You need to allow the prosecutor to focus on this complicated matter. Our capacity needs to grow.”

This is also the case with magistrates and judges.

“Those matters then don’t get the necessary attention [in remand court] and get remanded to other days. When the day comes, there are other new matters. The court system is being choked.” 

He says that the other forms of crime, namely serious organised crime and commercial crime, come as a result of corruption.

“So, corruption is the area that I’m passionate about. All these other [forms of crime] are possible because those who are supposed to do something [about it] are not doing it because they have been corrupted.

“If all of us can do what is expected of us, these other forms of crime will not be easily committed. When you talk of serious organised crime, it is happening because some of us are working with those organised criminal groupings.”

This is the same with government corruption and commercial crimes.

“You can reduce all of this if you deal with those who are corrupt,” he says. SAnews.gov.za

Most Read

SAnews on Twitter