South Africa, Politics

Own Goal: Minister of Police flouted the law, rendering Hawks head a lame duck

By Marianne Thamm 21 September 2016

The hasty appointment of Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza as head of the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation in September 2015, circumventing various legislative requirements, technically renders Ntlemeza a lame duck. Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko twice flouted correct procedures, first by not subjecting Ntlemeza to the required competency assessment, and second by contravening the SAPS Act in failing to notify Parliament timeously of Ntlemeza’s appointment. Like Hlaudi Motsoeneng – another “irrational appointment” – are Ntlemeza’s days numbered? By MARIANNE THAMM.

The original announcement by Minister “Firepool” Nhleko that the then Major-General Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza had been appointed to head the Directorate for Priority Crimes in September 2015 had come as something of a surprise.

Not only because Nhleko made the announcement at a parliamentary media briefing nine months after former head of the Hawks, Anwa Dramat, had been suspended, but also because a few months earlier, in March, Judge Elias Matojane in a case involving suspended Gauteng Head of the Hawks, Major-General Shadrack Sibiya, had labelled Ntlemeza “dishonest”, “lacking integrity” and “a liar”.

Ntlemeza had also not featured on the original list of short-listed candidates for the key position and had not been subjected to a statutory competency assessment. These violations of the rules prompted the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) and Freedom Under Law (FUL) earlier this year to challenge in the North Gauteng High Court the lawfulness and rationality of the appointment. The case is ongoing and will be heard in December.

At an unusual press briefing along with Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, in March 2016 and justifying the Hawks’ investigation of Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, Nhleko defended Ntlemeza, suggesting that Judge Matojane in the Sibiya matter “did not make a finding and only offered an opinion” as to Ntlemeza’s character.

Sibiya had been suspended by Ntlemeza, who was then acting head of the Hawks, after Minister Nhleko had suspended Dramat. Independent Police Investigative Directorate head, Robert McBride, who was also illegally suspended by Nhleko, described the appointment of the former apartheid-era policeman as a prime example of “political interference” in the criminal justice sector. Sibiya, Dramat and McBride were all investigating politically sensitive cases.

This month the Constitutional Court found that Nhleko’s suspension of McBride was invalid and should be set aside.

Soon after his appointment, Ntlemeza was rewarded and bumped up the salary scale – earning R1.6-million a year – when he was promoted to Lieutenant-General.

Ntlemeza, who is close to former head of Crime Intelligence Richard Mdluli, who in turn is close to the freshly suspended Deputy Head of NPA Nomgcobo Jiba, who is in turn close to President Jacob Zuma, was personally tasked in 2009 by Mdluli to keep track of the investigation into the 1999 murder of Oupa Ramogibe, who had married an ex-girlfriend of Mdluli’s.

Ntlemeza, in that instance, unsurprisingly exonerated Mdluli, a finding Sibiya had questioned. Bear in mind that this is the same Mdluli former NPA prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach had been investigating prior to her illegal suspension.

Dots are joining faster than we can draw them.

The revelation that Nhleko is 12 months late in notifying Parliament of Ntlemeza’s appointment as required by Section 17CA(3) of the SAPS Act technically renders every decision and appointment Ntlemeza has made (estimated to be around 40) since his assumption to the top job, null and void. This includes the clumsy 27 questions he fired off to Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, in February, ostensibly part of an “investigation” into the “SARS rogue unit”.

Everything Ntlemeza has done so far, including his request for a helicopter, has been brought into question because of Minister Nhleko’s tardiness and lack of understanding of the legislation that pertains to his portfolio.

Over and above failing to notify Parliament, Nhleko has also violated the Civilian Secretariat Act, requiring him to fill any vacancy for the Secretary of Police within a year, which he has not done.

The Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister of Police, Zakhele Mbhele, on Tuesday said Nhleko’s request for Parliament to condone his failure “is an admission that the process was procedurally flawed. If Parliament fails to condone his actions, this could serve as grounds for Ntlemeza’s appointment to be set aside.”

Mbhele added that he suspected Nhleko’s late letter had been triggered by a DA parliamentary question submitted to his office earlier this month asking if he had indeed complied with this section of the law “based on our suspicion that it had not been done”.

The submission of the year-late letter to Parliament by the minister confirms this suspicion,” said Mbhele.

Nhleko could perhaps be forgiven for his tardiness and for ignoring, or, let’s put it more charitably, overlooking the law. He has been consumed with the massive task of defending President Zuma and in the end it was he who delivered an unforgettable performance presenting the now fully discredited Nkandla Report (with a soundtrack).

On Monday Nhleko was in Durban at a safety and security stakeholders meeting, defending Ntlemeza, reportedly saying “law enforcement agents would pursue the the application of the Constitution and law even if it meant the heavens fell”.

He also said, Hawks don’t open cases. Cases are opened at police stations. They investigate without fear. They fear nobody. There is no fear in the Hawks,” a statement which directly contradicts another he made in March at the press conference with Mahlobo. There, Nhleko suggested that the Hawks or the police did not need a charge in order to conduct an investigation – this in relation to the questioning of Minister Gordhan:

How do you investigate a charge? A charge is probably just about the final product. You can only be charged once an investigation has been conducted. An investigation leads to a situation perhaps where there are issues to be answered in law for example. That is where the issue of charges come in. I find this question of what is the charge strange. No one is investigating a charge. Also the question of what legislation are we using. The South African police is governed by the Constitution and the Police Act to conduct their work. It is in that framework.”

If Nhleko and Ntlemeza are currently competing for South Africa’s equivalent of Iraq’s Comical Ali, one would feel both are strong candidates for the title. DM

Photo: Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko (GCIS) and Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza (eNCA)

Gallery

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