SIU head ‘took staff out of witness protection’

2014-02-16 14:00

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Special Investigating Unit (SIU) boss Advocate Vas Soni has been accused of forcing his own investigators out of witness protection and back to work after they got death threats from gangsters.

This, along with a string of other allegations and grievances, has resulted in Soni facing the threat of a “full-blown strike” from trade union Nehawu, which represents some SIU members.

Employees told City Press that the Western Cape investigators were ­involved in an investigation into tender corruption in the police, which one SIU source called a “procurement ­conspiracy between police and service providers”.

The SIU sources allege that seven ­investigators and their families were removed from the Western Cape after a security assessment by the Hawks.

Soni then ordered the investigators to return to work.

Boy Ndala, spokesperson for the SIU, provided City Press with a detailed response in which he confirmed that “immediate action” was taken to ­remove the investigators from Cape Town, but said the threat was then ­reassessed after new information emerged and three families were asked to go home.

“After speaking to all concerned, and assessing the nature and imminence of the threat on the basis of what the SIU had been told by law enforcement agencies, [Soni] decided that he was not entitled to continue accommodating the other members and their families,” Ndala said.

City Press spoke to three SIU ­employees – two of whom were union members – on condition of anonymity. They also accused Soni of:

  •  Asking an East London manager to draw up a list of union leaders whose career opportunities would be limited;
  • Attempting to retrench 146 SIU employees nationally whose fixed contracts expire in the near future;
  • Refusing to listen to union concerns about racism and nepotism in SIU management at a meeting on ­November 26 2013; and
  • Cancelling executive committee meetings of the SIU and running the unit with the assistance of “advisers who are all white and Indian”.

Regarding the complaint about the retrenchment of staff, Ndala said the fact that these employees were engaged on fixed-term contracts was something Nehawu has complained about “quite bitterly” in the past.

He said a process was now under way to convert “as many as possible ­into permanent ­contracts”.

Ndala said that Soni was not ­antagonistic towards unions, but that they “are not ­entitled to co-governance”. He said unions were consulted on the issues they needed to be, but they could find recourse in South Africa’s “comprehensive labour legislation”.

“Our democracy, and in this case the fight against corruption, is undermined when internal dissatisfaction of some employees is elevated into ­national or public issues,” Ndala said.

Allegations of racism and nepotism, and fights with Nehawu will be familiar to Willie Hofmeyr, who was frequently at loggerheads with the union while he was its head.

Hofmeyr left in 2011 and was ­replaced by Judge Willem Heath, who lasted ­only a week before concerns were raised that he might be politically partisan after comments he made in an ­interview with City Press.

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