Pretoria - The airplane is not being flown by competent pilots and can crash at any time.
This is according to Advocate David Unterhalter SCA who on Thursday morning argued that the court urgently had to intervene and suspend NPA head Shaun Abrahams and his two colleagues, Torie Pretorius and Sibongile Mzinyathi.
Unterhalter, acting on behalf of the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law, opened Thursday's proceedings by trying to convince a full bench - three judges - that the matter is urgent.
Unterhalter said the conduct of Abrahams and his two colleagues were so grossly negligent in their handling of the charges brought against Finance Minister Pravin Grodhan, and later dropped, that they are bringing the office of the NPA in disrepute.
“This is a case where urgent intervention is needed. If this application is heard in the normal course, it could take months or more to be concluded. In the interim these people continue in office and the harm simply continues.”
Unterhalter said the three must immediately be suspended, as they could later explain themselves during the inquiry into their conduct. According to them, if they care for the institution (NPA) they will agree to step down, pending the inquiry. He said they should in fact welcome the chance to clear their names, because as things now stand, a cloud is hanging over them.
He was questioned several times by Judges Dunstan Mblambo and Aubrey Ledwaba as to the move of President Zuma asking the three to give reasons why they should not be suspended. Unterhalter said Zuma has given no time lines when and if the inquiry will take place and it can thus drag its heels.
“He does not comprehend the gravity of which happened here. The president simply says give me time, I am putting process in place. But no indication when it will be done.”
“There is an obligation to act urgently, given the institutional harm,” Unterhalter said.
Judge Mlambo questioned why the court should “ stray” into the terrain of the executive, while Zuma is busy deciding on the matter. But Unterhalter said Zuma should have immediately suspended the three and later address the issues in an inquiry. This requires urgent action, he said.
Neither Abrahams or his two deputies are in court. The three have until Monday to submit their answers to Zuma as to why they should not be suspended.
Abrahams, in court papers, made it clear that according to him, they did nothing wrong and he said they are definitely not bringing the office of the NPA in disrepute, as claimed by the applicants.
Francis Antonie of the HSF, in an affidavit, questioned the three top officials’ fitness to hold office in light of the recent drama around Gordhan and his then co-accused.
He especially gunned for Abrahams, whom he said desperately tried to distance himself from the charges when it was dropped. “He now brazenly claims that he should bear no responsibility for this debacle. He, instead, placed the blame at the feet of the charged individuals, the direct victims.”
Antonie said Abrahams unwillingness to take responsibility confirmed that he is not fit and proper for the high office of the NDPP.
“The National Prosecuting Authority cannot learn from its most dramatic calamity… especially while it is headed by somebody of Abrahams character and competence.”