/ 11 November 2009

Department prepares for ‘long battle’ with prisons boss

The Department of Correctional Services is heading into a ”long battle” with its suspended national commissioner, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Wednesday.

Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs on the correctional services portfolio committee that a disciplinary hearing against Xoliswa Sibeko, who is accused of renting properties costing the taxpayer about R35 000 a month, had been put off to the end of November.

”The reason why this case of the national commissioner is being held on November 30 is to do with the inability to bring together the legal representatives of the national commissioner and the members of our disciplinary committee,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

”When people say we are not available there is nothing you can do. Then you have to set another date. It seems we are heading for a long battle with the legal team that is representing her.”

Sibeko was suspended in July over allegations related to the renting of accommodation for senior executives at ”exorbitant cost” to the taxpayer.

It was alleged that she and her Gauteng counterpart, Thozama Mqobi-Balfour, were renting properties in Pretoria’s exclusive Woodhill golf estate at a cost of R30 000 a month.

The rentals were being used while official residences remained empty.

The minister said ”the tricks” played by Sibeko’s legal representatives had prolonged the process and caused unnecessary delays.

”Hence the decision to meet on November 30 up to December 1. Hopefully on those days this matter will be concluded.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said Sibeko’s lawyers had requested copies of the minutes from all top management meetings since her suspension.

This, she said, had ”presented a very difficult and tricky situation for us”.

It is not correct that the department, which had such ”unique challenges”, should remain without a commissioner for such a long time.

”Whether this one comes back or not, is another matter, we need another commissioner.”

Committee chairperson, Vincent Smith, said ”something would have to be done” if there was no resolution after the disciplinary committee meeting.

”The committee has to respect due process if there are legal proceedings,” he said.

”We don’t want to be accused of pre-judging or getting into matters that are subject to disciplinary committee hearings set for the end of month.

”Hopefully, pending outcomes of the matter, we will have another opportunity to take that matter forward. If there is still stagnation, all of us are going to have to do something.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said the department had been flooded with ”a series of representations” from senior managers as soon as she had issued a directive that a new housing policy was being developed and that seniors had until December 31 to vacate their premises.

”I remain steadfast in my insistence that senior managers should acquire their own housing as is the case with other public servants,” she said.

A task team was going through each representation.

”Clearly there are different sets of circumstances, why people would have preferred to remain on the terrain. By the end of the week the matter should be resolved. By December 31, senior members should leave the terrain.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said the department was spending over R1-million a month on suspended employees.

By September it had seven officials who had been on suspension for seven to 12 months, six officials on suspension for 13 to 24 months and nine officials from KwaZulu-Natal who had been on suspension for more than 24 months.

”This is a matter that I have raised sharply with the acting national commissioner.

”It passes understanding why we are spending so much in a department that is grossly understaffed. We are spending over R1-million a month on employees on suspension in the department.”

She said a problem was that suspended officials were hitting the department with legal challenges.

”The legal contestation is rife. Once there is a legal
contestation, your hands are bound.” – Sapa