Sunday, June 19, 2011

State officials punished for applying rules

19 June, 2011 

Four government officials who refused to bend the rules to approve R1.6-billion police lease deals were threatened, victimised and suspended - and one was even fired.

Yet almost a dozen others that should be disciplined have yet to face the music.

The provisional report on the police's controversial R1.6-billion property leases by public protector Thuli Madonsela gives a detailed account of what went on behind the scenes and the fallout between those doing their jobs and their political masters.

The first casualty was former public works minister Geoff Doidge, who was axed by President Jacob Zuma on October 31, soon after launching an internal probe.

Geoff Doidge

Doidge had halted the R1.1-billion Durban lease pending the probe and suspended the R500-million Pretoria lease. The buildings involved are owned by businessman Roux Shabangu, who is close to Zuma.

Roux Shabangu
Days after Zuma appointed Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde as the new Minister of Public Works on November 1, she reinstated the Pretoria deal with Shabangu.

Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde 
This was despite two legal opinions, sought by her department, which concluded that the deal was illegal and should be cancelled.

Siviwe Dongwan
Hours after she allegedly put "pressure" on her director-general, Siviwe Dongwana, to reinstate the deal with Shabangu, she suspended him.
Dongwana told investigators that General Bheki Cele had summoned him to a meeting five days after he was appointed director-general.

Bheki Cele

Cele complained about a public works official from Durban, Irene Nel, who dealt with the police portfolio, saying that she was challenging his authority.

Dongwana said Cele was "extremely upset that a junior official had raised concerns about the accommodation requirements" of the SA Police Service.

"National commissioner regarded Ms Nel's inquiries as meddling in the affairs of the SAPS and further stated that she was running his department for him," he said.

Nel became another casualty after she raised the alarm over the SAPS irregularly negotiating with a landlord - before public works even knew of their space needs.

She questioned why the SAPS wanted to relocate the child protection and family violence units away from communities they served and also raised the flag on the tender process not being followed.

She was subsequently removed from the SAPS portfolio.

Dongwana said that after Doidge put the Durban lease on hold and started an internal investigation, he began receiving calls from Shabangu complaining the department had "an agenda against him".

Shabangu accused Dongwana and other officials of being "obstructive".

The report states: "As time progressed, Shabangu's demeanour became more aggressive to the extent that Mr Dongwana had to implement additional security measures at his office in order to avoid confrontation with Mr Shabangu."

Dongwana said after Mahlangu-Nkabinde replaced Doidge, "Shabangu's approach towards him became much more confident and demanding".

"Shabangu further referred to the new minister as his elder sister and showed him sms messages on his cellphone of communications between him and the new minister in connection with the new lease."

The SAPS head of property management in KwaZulu-Natal, Brigadier Thembinkosi Ngema, also expressed concern regarding the R1.1-billion lease to his provincial commissioner Monnye Ngobeni "about meeting the landlord of the building in the absence of the Department of Public Works".

For his pains he was "removed from (the) area of responsibility", the report said.

Nel told the Sunday Times she was "just doing (her) job" and declined to comment, as did Doidge, Dongwana and Ngema.

Meanwhile, Shabangu changed his tune on Friday, claiming Zuma was not his friend. This was after earlier telling the Sunday Times otherwise in two interviews and in a letter from his former lawyer, Natalie Visagie. The letter from Visagie reads: "The facts are: President Zuma is a friend of long standing of my client."

On Friday Shabangu said he had fired Visagie for "misrepresenting" his brief. She could not be reached for comment.

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