Shiceka, Madonsela in row over probe

2011-09-16 07:54

A bitter public spat erupted between Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka yesterday over delays in her investigation into his alleged abuse of state funds.

Madonsela rejected the minister’s repeated complaints that she was dragging her feet on the probe, and that this prevented him from returning to work from sick leave.

Instead, she said, Shiceka’s evasiveness and notably his refusal to be interviewed had delayed the investigation, prompting her to call on President Jacob Zuma to intervene.

Shiceka countered that he had co-operated fully and accused Madonsela not only of exceeding her brief, but of behaving unethically by discussing the matter with the media.

“It is regrettable that the office of the public protector has acted in an unethical and unprofessional manner by communicating official information shared with her office and the minister to the media,” he said.

“This is viewed as a breach of confidentiality in handling matters of this nature and disconcerting as it is becoming a trend.”

Shiceka fired the first shot in the row.

He told Eyewitness News yesterday that he was well, but could not return to his post until Madonsela had presented her findings.

It was the second time in two months that he had said so.

The presidency then confirmed that Zuma would not decide the minister’s fate until Madonsela had completed her work, arguing it would create an “untenable situation”.

Today, Madonsela said her preliminary report would go to Zuma and Shiceka next week.

She laid the blame for delays at Shiceka’s door and spoke of her difficulty in obtaining information from the minister, who had been on sick leave since February and allegedly misused around R1 million in state funds.

Madonsela said he took six weeks to respond to her initial request for information and when she asked for an interview with him in August, he replied he “was not in a position to meet her until he was declared medically fit to resume duties by a registered medical practitioner.

“This is despite information provided to the public protector by witnesses who gave an impression that Mr Shiceka’s health had apparently improved,” Madonsela said.

She then told Zuma of the “challenges that she was facing in concluding her report, particularly the unavailability of the minister”.

On August 12, The Sowetan quoted Shiceka’s spokesperson as saying the minister was able to return to work.

Subsequently, Madonsela again asked Shiceka for an interview, but was again turned down because he remained on sick leave.

Instead, his advisory team responded to written questions, but rebuffed her request for further clarification.

Shiceka said yesterday the information she wanted was not relevant to the probe.

“The latest additional information requested by the investigators has got nothing to do with the allegations levelled against the minister as it exceeds the terms of reference of the investigation as set out by the ethics committee and has led to an unnecessary protraction in concluding the investigation.”

Shiceka is alleged to have spent R355 000 to visit a girlfriend in a Swiss jail, R640 000 to stay in a luxury hotel in Cape Town, and more than R160 000 on plane tickets for his family.

Madonsela was asked by Parliament’s ANC-led ethics committee to investigate him for breaching the Executive Members’ Ethics Act.

It requires the probe to be concluded within 30 days.

Zuma has come under growing pressure to take a decision on Shiceka’s tenure given his long absence.

The Democratic Alliance has accused the president of “hiding behind” the public protector’s work, while the minister remains absent on full ministerial pay.

“Shiceka owes South Africans an explanation and President Zuma owes us some action,” the party said.

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