Minister's ethics probe - first since '94
Lizel Steenkamp, Beeld
Cape Town - In a first since the ANC came to power in 1994, the public protector has been asked by the party’s MPs to investigate a Cabinet minister over alleged abuse of funds.
Parliament's ethics committee on Thursday asked that reports of abuse of public funds by Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka be probed.
The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Shiceka spent R640 000 in one year on rooms for himself and staff at the One & Only hotel in Cape Town, flew to Switzerland first class to visit a girlfriend in jail and hired a limousine to drive him to the prison.
The newspaper said the trip to Bern cost the taxpayer R367 000 in total and Shiceka had passed it off as official business related to the 2010 FIFAWorld Cup.
Shiceka, who has been on sick leave since February, said at the time the story had been based on fabricated documents.
On Thursday, he refused to comment on the ethics committee's move. Well-placed sources in the ANC described it as a significant move, adding that it could be the end of the road in Cabinet for Shiceka.
A senior alliance member added that Schiceka was so ill that he probably wouldn't be returning in any case.
Committee co-chairs, ANC heavyweight Ben Turok and Lemias Mashile, also an ANC member, announced in a late-afternoon statement that the request for an investigation had been sent to the public protector.
Sources within the ANC said it was unlikely that it would have happened without approval from Luthuli House.
The step is unusual and "technically wrong" because the co-chairs took it upon themselves to approach the public protector instead of waiting for a majority vote at a committee meeting. The last meeting was in March.
However, it was widely welcomed from within ANC circles as well as by the DA and Cosatu.
"The ANC won't tolerate corruption of any kind," said ANC spokesperson Brian Sokutu.
Spokesperson Patrick Craven said Cosatu hoped that it would set a precedent so that all serious and "well documented" claims against senior government officials be investigated in future.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi earlier called for an investigation and said Shiceka should be fired if he was found guilty.
Anchen Dreyer, DA-MP and member of the ethics committee, welcomed the decision, but wanted to know why similar investigations were not being made with regard to other ministers accused of splurging tax payers' money.
"It is telling that the ANC is applying selective morality a month before the elections.
"One expects consistency and strong action - irrespective of the faction to which an individual belongs.
Turok refused to say why the ethics committee was acting against Shicke and not any other ministers.
A top official within the ruling party insisted, however, that it sent out a clear message.