Judge tells Zuma 'fire Cele'

2012-05-25 00:00

But a seething Cele hit back yesterday. Through his spokesperson Vuyo Mkhize, he said the board of inquiry’s report and the recommendations to the president were “nothing but a crude hatchet job designed to dupe the president into believing that there is justifiable cause to rob South Africa of the services of the best police commissioner that the country has ever had”.

Mkhize said Cele was considering all “available avenues” to challenge the validity of the report, including making a review application to the high court” (See box for Cele’s reaction to questions from The Witness.

The presidency last night said Zuma was applying his mind to the report and that his decision would be made public in due course, after he was done with consultations.

Spokesperson Mac Maharaj said he could not say when this would occur.

Asked who Cele’s likely successor would be, Maharaj said Zuma had not indicated that he was planning to replace the general.

“The national police commissioner is General Bheki Cele, who is currently under suspension.”

There is speculation that former ANC chief whip Nathi Nhleko — who has served as a deputy municipal manager, as well as in Correctional Services and the public service and was moved to the Labour Department last year as director-general — is in pole position for the job given that acting police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi has burnt his bridges with his independent stance.

Maharaj said yesterday the presidency would not speculate on what it would do if Cele decided to challenge the report’s findings.

Asked if it was not a cause for concern that top officers were leaving the SA Police Service (SAPS) under a cloud, and what this meant for law enforcement generally, Maharaj said: “Obviously there will be concerns which the president will not share with the media. He is there to consult and take action. Setting up the board of inquiry is one such action.”

The recommendation to sack Cele is contained in a 113-page report of the board of inquiry into his fitness to hold office, which was forwarded to the presidency at the weekend, but has yet to be made public.

The report states: “The grave misconduct by the national commissioner and his lack of appreciating his unlawful conduct, despite overwhelming evidence, proved unquestionably that he is not fit to hold office and that he is unable to execute his official duties efficiently. The board is duty-bound to recommend that the president … order his removal from office…”

Others who failed to impress the three-member inquiry, chaired by Judge Moloi, are KwaZulu-Natal provincial commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni, the SAP’s chief operating officer, Lieutenant-General Bonang Mngwenya, property magnate Roux Shabangu,and several officials in the Public Works Department involved in procurement.

Cele was suspended seven months ago by the president and a board of inquiry was subsequently established on November 4 in terms of the SA Police Act. It began its inquiry in March this year and conducted public hearings.

Cele’s suspension occurred at the same time that then Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde was fired after a damning report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela into two controversial police leasing deals in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Among the board’s findings are that:

• Cele, as the accounting officer of the SAPS, grossly misconducted himself with regard to the procurement of the Sanlam Middestad and Transnet buildings in Pretoria and Durban respectively;

• He favoured the buildings owned by Shabangu and, with the property magnate, pushed for the entire buildings in both Pretoria and Durban to be leased by the SAPS, “even when the needs analysis showed that a lesser amount of lettable space was required”;

• The police needs analysis was “retrofitted” to the lettable space of the buildings and Cele caused the procurement processes to be conducted and/or facilitated by the Shabangu’s manipulation of the police supply chain management processes;

• Cele’s acquiescence to the breach of procurement processes clearly indicated misconduct on his part, in that he permitted and/or created an environment that allowed manipulation of procurement processes by Shabangu’s company;

• Cele’s insistence on his innocence demonstrated palpably that he had failed to appreciate the nature and importance of his responsibilities as police chief and therefore lacked capacity and was incapable of executing his official duties efficiently;

• The evidence proved he acted dishonestly in denying that he knew Shabangu or had dealings with him;

• Cele was always aware, when signing documents relating to the two buildings, that procurement processes were not complied with and the availability of funds had not been confirmed by the police chief financial officer Stefanus Schutte. He signed nevertheless; and

• Cele’s resolve to ensure, at all costs, that the SAPS was going to rent buildings belonging and/or linked to Shabangu, at demonstrably exorbitant rates, when he clearly knew Shabangu, indicated that he had acted with an undeclared conflict of interest.

Like Madonsela’s report, the board found that no finding of corrupt activities could be made on the evidence before it.

However, it later blamed its lack of powers to subpoena witnesses or conduct searches for the fact that the relationship between Cele and Shabangu could not be explored or inquired into and “hence no finding of corrupt activities could be made”.

This also related to the relationship between Shabangu and officials within the Public Works Department and some members of the police.

“In this regard, it is recommended that these relationships be referred to competent authorities for further investigation,” the report says.

Should Zuma fire Cele, it will be the second time that a police chief is removed from office under a cloud. This time, however, the SAPS is in the throes of a major scandal involving Crime Intelligence head Richard Mdluli, and morale is said to be at an all-time low.

 

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