KwaZulu-Natal’s new premier, Sihle Zikalala, will have to start his promised clean up of the provincial government at the very top and fire its director general, Nonhlanhla Mkhize.
Zikalala, who replaced Willies Mchunu, unveiled his predominantly youthful Cabinet this week with a commitment to clean governance and transparency, saying that officials and politicians would have to stay on the straight and narrow or face the consequences.
“This administration will tighten the fight against corruption, which robs the vulnerable and poorest of the poor of services and opportunities,” he said.
“We will ensure that all cases of corruption are dealt with expeditiously and further ensure transparency in the work of government, especially the procurement processes. The abuse of political or administrative power must not, and will not, be tolerated.”
Last month public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane found that Mkhize, the former accounting officer in the office of then Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, had committed financial misconduct in approving the irregular purchase of a Range Rover Vogue and three other luxury vehicles during 2012.
Mkhwebane cleared Mabuza but found that Mkhize was responsible for the wasteful expenditure incurred in the purchase of the cars.
Mkhwebane found that she had violated the Public Finance Management Act, the Constitution and the Public Protector Act by signing off on the irregular purchase of the Range Rover, an Audi Q8 and a BMW X5 for Mabuza at a cost of almost R5-million.
Mabuza’s office had also violated the terms of the Ministerial Handbook by buying the vehicles, which were not needed for official work, at a time when the then finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, had called on government leaders to cut costs on official vehicles.
The report, issued on April 30, gave the Mpumalanga premier 14 days to inform the KwaZulu-Natal premier of the findings and ask that “appropriate action” be taken against Mkhize, whom Mchunu appointed in August 2017.
The Mpumalanga treasury was ordered to further investigate Mkhize’s violations and issue a report within 60 days.
Mchunu, however, appears not to have acted, because Mkhize is still in office and chaired the first meeting of Zikalala’s Cabinet on Wednesday.
Zikalala told the Mail & Guardian he was aware of the report’s existence and needed to discuss it with Mchunu before taking any further action.
“The public protector gave the report to the former premier. I am meeting with him early next week when he comes back,“ Zikalala said.
Ironically, a Cabinet statement in which Zikalala was quoted as saying that all heads of department who were implicated in corruption or maladministration were “on their own” was issued by Mkhize after the meeting.
The statement said that heads of department were warned that Zikalala’s administration “will not tolerate the excuse that wrong things happen within departments as a result of an instruction from MECs”.
“I want to warn public servants, particularly heads of department, that they should never take
instructions that are not within the law. Once they do that, they should know they are on their own,” Zikalala was quoted as saying in the statement.
Mkhize is not the only political hot potato Zikalala has inherited from Willies Mchunu, who was installed to replace then premier Senzo Mchunu in 2016 after the purge in the ANC that followed a change in provincial leadership in November 2015.
The province’s two biggest cities, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, were rocked by service delivery protests before and after the May 8 poll.
Pietermaritzburg, crippled by infighting in the ANC region, has been placed under administration, and Durban mayor Zandile Gumede is out on bail and at the centre of a series of corruption investigations by the Hawks. More upheaval is expected: the ANC needs to hold elective regional conferences in both cities this year.
Zikalala’s new-look Cabinet was announced at a low-cost event held at the official residence, Parkside, in Pietermaritzburg.