Cele inquiry stutters

2012-03-15 14:12

The board of inquiry into suspended police commissioner Bheki Cele’s fitness to hold office was brought to a standstill today as senior public works officials refused to testify about their conduct in the awarding of the multi-million rand police lease.

Such has been the struggle to get public works officials to testify that the board will now ask Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi to compel his officials to avail themselves.

The first witness who has refused to come before the hearing is the department’s chief director of property procurement, Mokgaetji Tlolane, who was the first person to contact businessman Roux Shabangu about his Middestad building, which was to be used for police headquarters.

Tlolane’s testimony is one of the most crucial in the inquiry as she is expected to shed light about how it came about that she called Shabangu directly to enquire about Middestad.

According to Shabangu’s affidavit filed at the North Gauteng High Court, it was Tlolane who first called him about his building.

The state also wants to know how she came to know about Middestad and why she opted to negotiate directly with Shabangu instead of advertising an open tender for office space.

State attorney Viwe Notshe, who is leading evidence against Cele in the inquiry, was at pains to explain numerous failed attempts to get Tlolane to testify.

Notshe said he had convinced Tlolane to submit a signed statement to the board before testifying and spent the entire day yesterday with her.

But a union representative from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, identified only as Mr Gumede, “interrupted” their meeting and told Tlolane not to sign the statement or testify without a subpoena from the board.

Notshe said Tlolane has demanded indemnity from any criminal prosecution that may result from her testimony.

The board also heard that Tlolane ignored written instructions from her superiors to testify.

It remains to be seen whether any of the witnesses who are refusing to testify will do so as the board is not empowered to subpoena anyone.

An unimpressed Judge Jake Moloi, chairperson of the inquiry, said he would ask Nxesi to intervene in the matter.

On Tuesday Moloi was forced to ask acting national police commissioner and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to compel KwaZulu-Natal commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonye Ngobeni and chief operations officer Lieutenant-General Bonang Mgwenya to testify today.

In their testimony today both Ngobeni and Mgwenya rejected former deputy commissioner Hamilton Hlela’s allegations that they were instructed by Cele to procure the Middestad and Transnet buildings for office space.

Their evidence backed Cele’s case that he was not involved in identifying the buildings or procuring the leases for the two buildings.

Hlela had told the board that when they visited Middestad he was invited by Ngobeni and Cele’s legal advisor, General Julius Molefe.

But Ngobeni and Molefe contended that it was Hlela who invited them to view the building.

City Press understands that suspended public works director-general (DG) Siviwe Dongwana, acting DG Sam Vukela and another senior officials, Vusi Mashiane, also do not want to testify.

The hearing continues tomorrow but there is no assurance that Tlolane will avail herself.

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