Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Scorpions: Hugh Glenister talks

The man brave enough to put his money where his mouth is to take on the ANC over the Scorpions speaks.

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The Constitutional Court is to hear businessman Hugh Glenister's application for leave to appeal the Pretoria High Court's decision to strike his application for an urgent interdict designed to preserve the DSO (Scorpions) this week.

To find out more about his bid, his motivations, and his feelings ahead of his Constitutional Court appearance, News24 spoke to Glenister from Cape Town on Tuesday.

News24: Isn't it the government's right to disband the Scorpions and decide what form the fight against crime should take? Why did you make the decision to challenge the disbanding of the Scorpions in court?
The difference is really the process that was followed and how they wanted to disband the Scorpions. At Polokwane there was a statement: the Scorpions must go. Then there was a media war that was played out against the Scorpions which put them under threat, undermining the process where it would go to cabinet and go to parliament.

We needed to protect the unit before we got to the point where we could challenge in a Constitutional Court.

Remember the traditional approach would be to take it to the Constitutional Court in the end, but my biggest concern was that we would end up with very little of the unit left. We would basically save an empty vessel, so it would be a victory but an empty one.

Thus because of the process that was followed by certain people in the ANC I had to step up to the plate and say, look if you want to play dirty well then two people have to play dirty, so we have to fight the war.

As far as the Scorpions per say is concerned I don't agree that you can take away the Scorpions, because you're taking a watchdog away from society. The issue for me is very fundamental: every South African pays tax. From a four year old who buys their first sweet to a 90 year old buying a tin of beans, they pay tax on that and that tax is then sent to the state and the state has to look after it.

The Scorpions are an essential watchdog of that, and now it's the last watchdog that we have left. If you think about it the Public Protector has been sidelined, and the Auditor General has been sidelined.

Now you've got the last watchdog which is actually looking after taxpayer's money and they want to get rid of that as well. So they don't want anybody looking over their shoulders. As all South Africans we have the right to know that the money we send in is looked after and spent as an investment for the future for all South Africans. That's why the particular Scorpions issue became very important to me.

News24: How long has the process taken you?
I started the process on the 21st of January 2008.

News24: How much money has this court bid cost so far?
About R1.8m so far.

News24: Have you had to raise additional funds to cover the costs?
Not at this point in time. We have been fortunate that some people have donated funds, I think so far about R55 000 has been donated.

Are you not wasting your own and public money by taking this course of action?
You know that's one of the most difficult questions. This is an investment in South Africa's future. Out of this whole process comes a whole set of discussions. People have become involved, people have discussed it, so I think the process is well worth an investment in South Africa.

News24: How has the additional support of opposition parties helped you in your bid?

The more people we can get involved in the discussions and the more points of views that we can bring to the table the better for all of us to understand the implications of such a drastic move.

News24: Many people say the disbanding of the Scorpions is a done deal. What makes you think ordinary citizens can change this decision?
I think all that was fought during the 70s and 80s was for the freedom of the individual, so that the people will govern.

I think it's important for us to remember that out of that whole process came a constitution that was negotiated by all the parties and it created something that said the Constitution is sacrosanct and therefore the individuals within South Africa have the right to fall on the constitution when they feel their politicians act arbitrarily or without considering the people's opinions.

News24: Why is it a Constitutional Court matter if the government decides to disband one of its agencies?
It depends on your interpretation of the law: is it a government matter or is it a matter of the people? In our opinion it is a matter of the people so therefore it's a constitutional issue because the Constitution protects yours and my rights.

News24: What do you make of Parliament's "Road Show" over these last few weeks?
It seems, at those public discussions, a lot of people want the Scorpions to be disbanded. Yes and no - it depends. I was very impressed with the first couple of days in Cape Town with Yunus Carrim.

Carrim tried to make sure every point of view was heard. He tried to stress that we have to hear everybody's opinion. Now when we look at the way Maggie Sotyu is running her meetings, she's basically allowed people to shout over everybody else and shout each other down.

So I find it very difficult to come to the conclusion that everybody wants the Scorpions to go. That's not the arguments I heard in parliament. Where people have been allowed to talk that's not the argument I've heard.

Where the masses have been able to use what I would call radicalism and racialism as an excuse to behave like bullies, or without listening to people, then I think yes maybe you want to make that conclusion.

But people were bussed in to actually disrupt the hearings. That is very concerning for me because that means we don't actually want to hear what people are saying we just want to shout them down. That's mob behaviour; that's not how negotiate and debate.

News24: Do you think this desire to disband the Scorpions, if it is as widespread as people say, is due to a misunderstanding of the objectives of the Scorpions?
I don't believe that most people want the Scorpions to go. We have almost 90 000 people that have joined the petition since the pubic hearings started. Another 5000 people have signed the petition which puts me in a position where I don't agree that everybody wants the Scorpions to go.

Plus in the surveys that were done by [Ipsos] Markinor and TNA, between 60 and 80% of people didn't want the Scorpions to go so I don't know where that conclusion comes from.

But let's say that hypothetically you're correct then I think yes there is a misunderstanding. I think a lot of the issues have become clouded because people have tried to compare them to the police. The real issue is this unit was set up to investigate organised crime plus corruption.

Now corruption is problematic for South Africans because it is important that we invest every piece of tax payer's money in building a better future for all of us. And I don't think that message gets across to the people because all sorts of other issues gets clouded in: racism, apartheid, etc.

It becomes very clouded and I think that if we stick to the facts and we actually get down to the nitty-gritty of the facts we'll see that the unit in actual fact has done a damn good job at rooting out corrupt politicians. Sixty-eight percent of their cases are to do with financial crime, e.g. Fidentia.

All of these things save the South African tax payer and invest in our future so I think yes there is a misunderstanding, but this is political rhetoric that gets involved.

News24: Is this about keeping the Scorpions because you believe in the work they are doing, or about making a point to the government or the ANC that public sentiment should count more?
I'm very, very concerned about the list system. Yunus Carrim actually admits to this in his answers to me in parliament where he says: I am voted into this position by 1900 people who control the lists. There seems to be a difference between the politicians and the people on the ground.

Most average South Africans feel very disconnected from the government. So yes I think we as South Africans need to stand up and say listen: we are the people and we want to be listened to because we want you to invest in our future.

News24: In all news reports you're described just as a businessman - what do you do?
I run businesses which are basically about empowering people. I teach people how to be financially independent. We give them technology that allows them to become financially independent within a very short space of time. Our technology provides a mechanical part of their business.

So they need to bring their creativity to the party but then our machinery takes away the mechanical aspect of their business so they don't have to go through a 20 year apprenticeship to achieve the mechanical dexterity they require. It's about empowering people to create their own wealth.

I basically use my own history: I started my business with R45 and built it up to a multimillion business. I take that and I basically impart that to other people and say: you can also do this.

News24: How much of an impact has this court bid had on the running of your business (and your sanity?)
[Laughs] Look its impacted on my business obviously because I get bogged down with the press and so on, but its an important thing. I'm a strategist so I'm investing in the future so it's an important thing that we make an environment that is better for every South African.

So yes it impacts on my business on a short term tactical basis but long term it should have an impact on building a better environment for all of us to do business.

News24: Are you optimistic about your ConCourt appearance?
Well the attorneys are extremely optimistic and that's because we've had quite a few parties that have joined the application at the last minute. We've got the United Democratic Front and the Society for Constitutional Rights joining us and they're all very upbeat that we've got a case to argue.

2 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Hugh Glenister.
I salute you sir.

Anonymous said...

A very brave man and much admired.
Hopefully, others will also stand in in support, for such a time as this!!!