A government car for his girlfriend, a state-funded party for his mother and a dodgy CV — Sicelo Shiceka’s qualifications for membership of the inter-ministerial task team on corruption are looking threadbare.
His staff in the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs are angry about the minister’s conduct but afraid of his “dictatorial” leadership style. However, they listed a range of allegations that the ministry has struggled to answer adequately.
One sore point with officials is Shiceka’s claim to have a master’s degree, which the Mail & Guardian has established he does not. In his official curriculum vitae on the department’s website, the minister listed among his qualifications a master’s degree in political economy from the University of the Free State.
Confronted with allegations that this was untrue, Shiceka’s spokesperson, Vuyelwa Qinga-Vika, claimed the minister was still studying for the degree “with a few modules outstanding”.
The university denied it. Lacea Loader, the university spokesperson, said: “He was registered here from 2004 to 2005 but he never completed the degree.”
Also, there was no record of him re-registering to complete the programme, she said.
After the M&G had questioned Shiceka’s office about the misrepresentation of his qualifications, the website was edited to list the degree as “current studies”.
Alleged misuse of a ministerial car
Staff are also angry about what they see as the improper use of state resources to fund Shiceka’s lifestyle. There is particular concern over the alleged misuse of a ministerial car — a Mercedes-Benz arguably acquired for the use of Nomatyala Hangana, the former deputy minister of the department (then known as provincial and local government).
According to three sources, Shiceka ordered that the car be made available to Nomvula Mabuza, who lives with him.
Department insiders say she is a “recognised spouse” in terms of the rules governing ministerial benefits — but that doesn’t entitle her to a ministerial car.
A minister can give up his own official vehicle for use by a spouse, but Shiceka has not done so.
Cabinet ministers are allowed two official cars, one for use in Cape Town (where Shiceka has a Mercedes) and a second one for Pretoria (where he has an Audi Q7). The Mercedes apparently used by Mabuza would mean he has three official vehicles.
Dumisani Nkwamba, the spokesperson for the Department of Public Service and Administration, said that a minister’s spouse could drive an official vehicle if the department was informed for insurance purposes. “In such an instance, the minister will not be allocated another official vehicle in lieu of the one utilised by the spouse.”
Mabuza had been driving the car since Shiceka took over as the minister about a year ago, said the sources. The vehicle was apparently returned after the M&G raised questions about it in early April. Shiceka denied any impropriety and Mabuza denied being allocated the car.
Qinga-Vika said that the car had not been returned to Kgwerano Asset Finance because its lease period had not yet expired.
“The car was on occasion used as the minister’s escort vehicle; and this was not on a daily basis, but only when it was necessary,” she said.
“In the worst-case scenario, had it become necessary, Chapter 5 of the ministerial handbook also provides for spouses with valid driver’s licences to drive official vehicles used by ministers.”
Qinga-Vika would not say how much it cost the department to keep a third ministerial car for a year after the new political heads took office and acquired new vehicles. She said the “billing of the vehicle was fixed for the entire rental period with standard applicable rental rates”.
Questions are being raised, too, about a party in Shiceka’s home village of eMaRhamzini in the Eastern Cape. Three members of the department say the event appears to have been a birthday party for the minister’s mother, Oscarina Shiceka — funded by the taxpayer. A local municipal official offered a different version, suggesting it was a celebration to reward his supporters for his appointment to the Cabinet.
The event was held on Saturday October 3. Oscarina Shiceka’s birthday, according to people who know the family, is on October 4.
Senior department officials say the party was listed as a Pondoland Revival Project function for funding purposes.
That project was launched last year in March as a joint venture between the department and the Ingquza Hill local municipality to boost local economic development and service delivery, but the municipality was not involved in the party.
Simphiwe Thobela, the head of communications at the municipality, said: “There was a function hosted by the minister in his home town but as the municipality we were not part of it.” He said the municipality had been told Shiceka hosted the party to “enlighten people about the projects taking place in the area and it was also a thanksgiving to his people for supporting him throughout his political career”.
“Remember, it was just a few months after he was appointed,” Thobela said. Two senior employees of the department said the party was paid for from the cooperative governance budget.
“The only officials who attended that party were from [Shiceka’s ministerial] office,” said one. “If it was a departmental function, why was there no one from the department?”
Qinga-Vika said Shiceka viewed the allegation “in a serious light” and that there was “no truth” in it.
After asking for more time to check on the matter because she was on leave in October, Qinga-Vika said the department did not have any record of such a function or any expenditure recorded in its budget for the Pondoland project.
The M&G has previously reported on Shiceka’s reluctance to act on the findings of two forensic reports identifying misconduct in the department.
There now appear to be more problems. The M&G is in possession of a list of 58 financial transactions declared irregular by the department’s procurement division. The transactions, amounting to a total of R1,8-million since April last year, are all from the minister’s office.
Qinga-Vika said Elroy Africa, the department’s director general, had already called in the people involved in irregular financial transactions and found that the explanations they provided were satisfactory.
“He has thus, in line with the provisions entailed in the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act], accordingly condoned those expenditures as he found them to have been done with no intention to benefit any individual or to violate the law,” said Qinga-Vika.
A department employee said officials were reluctant to gainsay Shiceka on questionable spending. “It is because he is a dictator. You cannot say no to him.”