Cele lease inquiry told he acted honestly

Suspended national police commissioner Bheki Cele acted out of concern in the Servamus building lease, which was about to expire, a board of inquiry heard in Pretoria on Tuesday.

Vincent Maleka, for Cele, said his client would tell the board he had raised issues relating to the police’s future accommodation because he knew the lease contract at Servamus was ending.

The board will seek to establish whether Cele acted corruptly or dishonestly, or with an undeclared conflict of interest in relation to two leases for police office space. It will also examine his fitness to hold office and his capacity to efficiently execute his duties.

Public protector Thuli Madonsela found Cele’s action pertaining to leases for new police headquarters in Pretoria and Durban, valued at R1.6-billion, was “improper and unlawful”.

The finding will form part of evidence at the inquiry. The board was appointed by President Jacob Zuma in October 2011.

Testifying on the second day of the inquiry, Brigadier Alpheus Ngema said he had raised concerns with his immediate bosses over the handling of the Transnet building, which had been earmarked to accommodate Durban police.

‘Pushed aside’
Ngema referred to a meeting held at the Transnet building and which was attended by the provincial police leadership and representatives of the building’s owner.

“When I realised that in that meeting there was no representatives from department of public works, I told General [Mmamonye] Ngobeni that I was very uncomfortable,” said Ngema.

“She pushed me aside and when we finished viewing the building we went back to our offices. I told her again that we were not supposed to be meeting with the landlord without involving [the department],” he said.

Ngema said Ngobeni did not answer him but instructed him to find out the status of the Servamus building lease.

He said Ngobeni had wanted to convey this information to Cele who he was meeting at the airport.

However, Maleka disputed the claim, saying Cele did not remember ever meeting Ngobeni at the airport.

Angry over delays
Ngema could not be drawn on Cele’s conduct relating to the Durban lease. He told the inquiry he had not worked directly with the police chief.

Earlier, former deputy national commissioner Lieutenant-General Hamilton Hlela told the board that Cele had called him and was angry over delays in the Middestad lease.

“He was fuming when he called me. He said I didn’t want to give him the two floors at the Middestad building,” Hlela said.

Cele had caused Hlela severe mental discomfort, leading to his early retirement, he said.

Before he stepped down in August 2010, Hlela was also head of the police’s supply chain management division, mandated with making needs analyses for police accommodation.

“I told him that I was not the one handling the matter but the department of public works. I wanted to serve in the police until I reached 60 years but had to leave at 55.”

‘Untenable’
Maleka accused Hlela of making the claims to suit his testimony after reading Madonsela’s report on the leases.

The matter was adjourned to Wednesday as no more witnesses were available to testify.

Board of inquiry chairperson Judge Jack Moloi turned down a request by evidence leader Viwe Notshe for the proceedings to be postponed to Monday.

Notshe told the inquiry that a key witness, Irene Nel from KwaZulu-Natal, was only available next week.

Moloi said, “This matter has been hanging long and we expected [it] would continue until it is finalised. It is unwise to deal with this matter in that fashion … it is untenable and undesirable.” — Sapa

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