Phiyega, police minister in war of words

2014-12-07 15:00

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A series of explosive letters ­between Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and national ­police commissioner Riah Phiyega indicate that the two are at war.

This has resulted in Phiyega writing to President Jacob Zuma to ask him to intervene in the feud triggered by a probe the minister is conducting into the SA Police Service (SAPS).

Phiyega is worried that the investigation is a precursor to a process to turf her out of her office.

Two senior officers sympathetic to Nhleko claim that President Zuma had asked Phiyega to step down at a meeting at his Mahlamba ­Ndlopfu residence in Pretoria a few weeks ago, but City Press could not confirm this.

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj had not responded to questions posed to him by City Press by late yesterday morning.

Nhleko announced in October that the investigation – to be conducted by a special committee of private individuals who are experts in legal and security matters, and known as the reference group – would look into issues of ­administration, promotions, salary increases, working conditions in the police, appointments, dismissals, disciplinary and criminal proceedings involving senior management.

The reference group comprises six members who have legal, organisational, intelligence and institutional reform expertise.

It is convened by advocate Margaret Kruger.

In a letter addressed to Phiyega in October, Nhleko told the national police commissioner he had received a number of concerns pertaining to the functioning of the SAPS.

He told her he had appointed the reference group through the police’s civilian secretariat to conduct a thorough investigation.

Nhleko then instructs Phiyega to cooperate with the probe.

“The national commissioner and the ­administration will be required to cooperate ­fully with the reference group and [are] particularly required to timeously provide all documentation requested to ensure that the reference group completes its responsibilities within the stipulated time frame,” wrote Nhleko.

But Phiyega is opposed to the probe, which she sees as encroaching on her administrative responsibilities. She has written to Nhleko ­informing him that she will not cooperate with it. She has also written to President Zuma to complain about it.

In a letter responding to Nhleko, Phiyega pointed out that any concerns raised with him involving how the police force is run should have been brought to her first.

“I believe that in the spirit of collegiality and deference to the separation of powers as ­enshrined in the Constitution, I should have been appraised of the concerns raised by various parties.”

She then informs him she will not be ­cooperating with the probe as it infringes on administrative functions, which are her sole responsibility.

“The general and overboard nature of the mandate of the reference group as it appears in your letter raises concerns that the reference group would or could infringe on operational and administrative powers, functions and ­duties which, in terms of the SAPS Act, are ­vested exclusively in the national commissioner,” she wrote back.

Phiyega’s spokesperson, Solomon Makgale, said she had not been approached to provide any information to the reference group.

Phiyega became the subject of an investigation after she was recorded in the act of apparently tipping off Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer about an investigation into his ­possible links with various druglords.

Three sources who spoke to City Press said the relationship between the police minister and the national police commissioner had irretrievably broken down.

In October the two were allegedly involved in a three-hour screaming match at the police training camp in Pretoria West.

This was after Phiyega found out about Nhleko’s intention to investigate her. Phiyega is said to have told the minister she did not report to him as she was appointed by the president.

Asked about the meeting, Makgale said Phiyega and Nhleko meet from time to time to discuss a range of issues related to the police.

“Issues discussed between the national commissioner and the minister are confidential. We cannot make public those details. Suffice to say some of these discussions are robust. Her only focus is what is in the best interests of the SAPS,” said Makgale.

Nhleko’s spokesperson, Musa Zondi, also confirmed the meeting. He said it was requested by the minister, who informed the national commissioner and other senior members that he was setting up a task team to investigate a range of issues in the police service.

He said there were no screaming matches and it was Phiyega’s idea to refer to the task team as a reference group in future.

“The national commissioner suggested an amendment to the name of the group, which led to it being called the reference group to avoid misconceptions that it was there to probe her,” said Zondi.

He added that the minister did not need ­Phiyega’s permission to institute a probe as he did not report to her.

Phiyega has since raised her objections to the reference group probe with President Zuma.

She told Zuma in a letter: “The above matter [Nhleko’s probe] has caused serious consternation on my part as head of the police service. I’m deeply concerned about the reported ­development and the impact it could have on my capacity to deliver my duties.”

Another bone of contention in their battle is a tender worth millions of rands to run a women’s event in the police service, which Nhleko allegedly wanted awarded to a production house whose name is known to City Press.

Phiyega is said to have resisted this, something Nhleko was said to be unhappy about.

The two have also had major differences over the appointments of heads of crime intelligence in the various provinces.

Phiyega first advertised the posts with a ­requirement that the applicants should have post-matric qualifications.

However, the adverts were withdrawn when senior police officers – who were integrated ­into the police force from the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, and other non-statutory forces – complained to President Zuma and Nhleko that the post-matric qualification requirement would exclude them from applying.

Things came to a head in Gauteng when ­Phiyega refused to appoint well-known crime intelligence officer Nkosana “Killer” Ximba as head of crime intelligence.

Ximba, who has links to suspended crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli and apparently does not have a matric, is said to have complained to Zuma about Phiyega’s snub.

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