The deed has been done and now there are calls for President Jacob Zuma to recover the money from the ministers he axed, and for Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate some more. Then there is also the thing with Bheki Cele. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
Axed but not down and out: Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Sicelo Shiceka will continue to be paid at least R802,873 per year of taxpayers’ money as they both return to sitting on the back benches of Parliament for now – that is if they don’t get redeployed as diplomats in faraway countries as often happens with ex-ministers. Suspended Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele would also continue to draw a salary as claims of wrongdoing against him are investigated.
It’s unlikely that the two ministers would become ambassadors any time soon, because, unlike President Jacob Zuma’s previous bunch of “axees” about a year ago, these former ministers have actually been condemned for maladministration in an official report. Not really a commendation if you want to represent your country in another place, especially if the foreign government happens to be particular about things like a clean record.
At the same time, it’s fairly difficult to get yourself fired as an MP, so they’re sitting pretty for now in the National Assembly. Shiceka couldn’t be reached on Tuesday so it’s unclear whether he’s even well enough to return to Parliament. Mahlangu-Nkabinde also had her phone off.
If it depended on the DA, the sacking would not indemnify the ministers from accounting for their dodgy governance. The party’s spokesman for cooperative governance, James Lorimer, said in a statement on Tuesday that Shiceka (former minister in this portfolio) should be made to pay back the thousands of rands he had wasted on overseas travel to visit his jailed girlfriend and lavish hotel stays – among others, a night in Cape Town’s R13,500-per-night One and Only (because mosquitoes bothered him in his ministerial home).
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela recommended in her damning report on his irregular spending that the director-general of his department, Elroy Africa, “take the appropriate action to recover from Mr Shiceka the expenditure incurred by the Department” for his trips to Switzerland and his stays and entertainment of guests at One and Only – roughly R840,000 (just over a year’s salary as MP or, if you’re a DA MP like Lorimer, you’d estimate this as roughly the cost of 15 RDP houses).
Shiceka’s replacement, Richard Baloyi, is going to have an interesting time.
Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, had already indicated on a SAfm AM Live interview on Tuesday that the proper “processes” had to be followed, and that it was too early to talk about the money. He said people complained that Zuma never does anything, and when he acted, people want him to do more. Secondly, the DA dealt with Mahlangu-Nkabinde, whom DA federal chairman Wilmot James says should be pursued by the Hawks. In August the DA laid charges against her for contravening the Public Protector Act and also in terms of the Intimidation Act, as she allegedly intimidated former staff to continue with the dodgy police leases.
Having seen what Zuma was capable of when wielding his axe in Cabinet, the DA is now baying for more blood: that of agriculture minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson. In a reply to a written parliamentary question this week, it was revealed that she had spent more than R1.5 million on hotel stays since she was appointed in 2009. One of these included a month’s stay, at R290,000, at the Peermont D’Oreale Grande at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg, and R420,000 for a month’s stay at another hotel in the same city, after her ministerial residence had been refurbished. That’s about R13,000 per day and is reminiscent of Shiceka’s hotel bills.
“The DA believes this constitutes a flagrant abuse of public funds, a violation of the Executive Ethics Act and a breach of her Constitutional responsibilities. Shiceka has been sacked for misusing public funds, and this precedent should apply to Joemat-Pettersson too, DA spokesman on agriculture, Lourie Bosman, argues. The minister ran up this hotel bill because she didn’t have a ministerial residence when she took office, and for the first 10 months of her tenure she stayed at four- and five-star hotels “virtually every single night”, Bosman said. She should have rented houses in Cape Town and Pretoria instead, Bosman said, which would have saved hundreds of thousands.
The hard work is also set to begin now with Cele’s commission of inquiry, after Madonsela found that he, too, was in the wrong with the R1.7 billion police lease saga. It’s a matter Zuma would have to handle with care, because Cele had stood by him when he rose to power and the president cannot risk having bitter friends-turned-enemies on his case in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung next year.
There is also the small matter of safety and security, which Cowboy Cele seems to know quite a bit about. Take, for instance, the ANC Youth League’s march planned for Thursday and Friday. Cele, who has the League’s sympathies, would have had some clout to negotiate with the youngsters if things went wrong, whereas acting police chief, Major General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, might struggle.
The DA has also complained about him. Dianne Kohler-Barnard said Zuma should give clarity to the public as well as the police about why the “relatively inexperienced” Mkhwanazi – who, like Cele and Zuma, is from KwaZulu-Natal – had been appointed to the post ahead of “a large pool of senior and experienced SAPS managers”.
She also asked that the inquiry look at general “financial mismanagement” under Cele, which is said to possibly exceed R1.5 billion.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has, however, jumped to Zuma’s defence on this one, and said Mkhwanazi was a “tried and tested cop” and not a “junior constable”. “The very same people who are questioning his credentials would in any way have moaned had the President appointed someone who was outside the SAPS ranks, that is for sure,” Mthethwa said. He’s fairly spot-on with that one.
Zuma can at least rejoice for having pleased both of the ANC’s alliance partners, Cosatu and the SACP, as well as the ruling party itself (and its caucus). Cosatu has been nagging him for a long time about rooting out corruption and maladministration, and said this week that “from now on there must be a policy of zero-tolerance to the looting of public resources by anyone, in the public or private sector, no matter how senior their position”.
Seeing that Zuma said nothing about clean administration at the press conference where he announced the steps he was poised to take, it might be a while before Cosatu praises him again. DM
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.