/ 23 October 2011

Shiceka: I fought against corruption

Shiceka: I Fought Against Corruption

It would be “inappropriate” for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Sicelo Shiceka to comment on his future in the government, he said in an interview with City Press newspaper on Sunday, while claiming to be anti-corruption.

“The fighting of corruption is the responsibility of all leaders in SA, including every citizen in the country,” he said.

“Since becoming Cogta minister, I contributed to changing the face of the local government sphere in the post-apartheid era, including fighting corruption.”

Shiceka said findings of maladministration on his part did not undermine the credibility of his office. Asked what he would do if he was asked to resign, he replied: “I think it is inappropriate to be speculative.”

He also reiterated that Madonsela’s findings were “baseless and devoid of evidence”.

“This is the reason I am taking this matter to court for review,” he said.

The Mail & Guardian has seen a copy of Shiceka’s full response to Madonsela, in which he responds only to “those allegations, which necessitate a response”.

In it Shiceka will try to punch holes in Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s scathing report on his abuse of taxpayers’ money when he applies to court for the findings to be declared null and void, the M&G reported on Friday.

However, Shiceka’s case, based on his response to Madonsela’s provisional report, is contradicted by testimony given to the protector’s investigators.

“My failure to deal with any specific allegation contained therein should not be considered as an admission of the correctness thereof,” he said.

Madonsela’s investigation found that Shiceka spent more than R1-million on travel for himself, his friends and staff members, violating the executive ethics code and constituting maladministration and abuse of public funds. She recommended that President Jacob Zuma take “serious action” against Shiceka within 60 days.

Shiceka responded:

  • That the protector’s methods were unlawful, unconstitutional and deprived him of his constitutional right to fair procedure. However, Madonsela’s final report points out that he declined a face-to-face interview scheduled for August 6 and three other opportunities to respond to her questions, two of them in writing.
  • That he should have been left alone, as he was sick. “This investigation is — unprecedented as the minister was expected to attend to matters pertaining to his office and official conduct when the very reason for being off duty is that he is medically unfit,” he said. However, at the time Shiceka was refusing to talk to the protector, he told the media that he was ready to return to work.
  • That his trip to Switzerland, which cost taxpayers R500 000, was justified because Danny Jordaan of the Fifa World Cup local organising committee (LOC) advised him to take it. “It is disturbing that the public protector refutes the fact that Dr Jordaan did make an input encouraging the minister to learn more about the issues including seeking international exposure”, Shiceka said. According to Madonsela’s findings, Jordaan denied Shiceka’s claims. “The LOC would not have requested the chairperson of the host cities forum to undertake any visits abroad as the involvement of the government in the preparation for the Fifa World Cup was not under its control,” Madonsela’s report quotes Jordaan as saying. Shiceka’s responses suggest that he has approached witnesses to testify to Madonsela. He said: “Dr Jordaan has been consulted on his testimony before the public protector and he disputes the evidence contained in the provisional report. It has now transpired that the public protector is refusing to give him the copy of the relevant part of the provisional report to respond accordingly.”
  • That the use of taxpayers’ money for a flight to Cape Town and accommodation for a Mr Mntambo, was justified because “Mntambo is [my] father, in terms of customary practice and all the expenses expended in this regard are within the relevant regulations and accordingly lawful”. He pointed out that “it would have been appropriate if the [protector’s] investigators had acquainted themselves with the tradition and customs of the African family prior to pronouncing on the matter. In fact, the approach — has been somewhat Eurocentric.” In this way, Shiceka pits legal requirements against an informal African definition of the family, which differs from one family to the next, even among staunch traditionalists.
  • That the protector’s findings are based on “questionable witnesses”. “The majority of the so-called witnesses are former disgruntled employees, some of whom were dismissed from the department for abuse of state funds,” said Shiceka’s spokesperson Botshelo Rakate. Rakate claimed Madonsela was informed early in the investigation that departmental officials abused travel and bookings policy, that Shiceka had launched an investigation and that some officials had been fired. “The public protector does not acknowledge this as a good intention. Instead, these former employees were used as key witnesses during her investigation,” he said. “In addition, witnesses — didn’t take an oath and were never subjected to cross-examination by the minister. Worse still, some of their identities remain unknown, as they are not mentioned in the final report.”
  • That there are loopholes in the Ministerial Handbook. “Why is it that he is being blamed for an administrative gap that apparently exist in the Ministerial Handbook, which affected all other Cabinet ministers and senior public officials, which the public protector herself acknowledges as an issue that needs to be addressed in the near future in recent similar cases of alleged exorbitant expenditure on hotel expenses?” Rakate asked.

In his interview with City Press, Shiceka said he was anti-corruption.

“The fighting of corruption is the responsibility of all leaders in SA, including every citizen in the country.

“Since becoming Cogta minister, I contributed to changing the face of the local government sphere in the post-apartheid era, including fighting corruption.”

Asked by the newspaper if Zuma had requested his resignation, Shiceka said: “For the record I am on sick leave.”

He has been on sick leave since February. — Mail & Guardian and Sapa