Cele unfazed by a court decision declaring Sitole’s actions as lawful

Johannesburg – The high court in Pretoria has cleared the way for SAPS national commissioner Khehla Sitole to discipline high-ranking crime intelligence unit officials facing allegations of abusing the slush fund.

The decision of the court is a major victory for the top cop over Police Minister Bheki Cele. Sitole shrugged off Cele’s instruction that he halt the suspension of crime intelligence head Peter Jacobs and five other officials from the crucial division in connection with allegations of abuse of the Secret Service Account to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) to the tune of almost R1-million. Last month, Sitole suspended Jacobs and the other officials over the procurement of PPE, a move that did not sit well with Cele.

This after Sunday World reported that the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI) Setlhomamaru Dintwe was investigating the dodgy procurement of PPE by the division, which occurred a week after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the state of disaster over Covid-19. Cele had written to Sitole instructing him to place all investigations and intended suspensions related to the PPE saga in abeyance.

The minister said in terms of the Intelligence Services Oversight Act (ISO Act), Dintwe was supposed to submit the report to him as the minister responsible for the service. Sitole stood his ground, saying the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) enjoined him as an accounting officer to act in instances of financial misconduct. Jacobs, intelligence planning and monitoring head Brigadier Deon Lombard and head of covert intelligence collection Josias Lekalakala, among others, lodged an urgent application to reverse their suspensions.

They argued that the ISO Act required Dintwe to submit a report to Cele for the minister to take a decision on the matter. On Friday, the court dismissed the bid with costs, ruling that Sitole was the head of the crime intelligence unit and the buck stopped with him when it came to matters of financial and administrative accounting.

Acting judge Jacques Minnaar said the ISO Act did not provide that Sitole could only suspend the officials after a decision by Cele, adding that Dintwe did not have to submit a report to the minister for the commissioner to act.

Sitole was empowered by the SAPS Act and the PFMA to act in cases of procurement irregularities.

“The interpretation advanced by the applicants further deprives the national commissioner of his powers, undermines his prerogative on matters of discipline in the employment realm, and undermines his ability to meet his obligations as set out in the SAPS Act and the PFMA by suggesting that disciplinary action can only be taken once the minister has made some kind of a decision based on the IGI report,” he said.

“It follows that the national commissioner is not only entitled to act against the second to seventh applicant’s alleged misconduct, but is obliged to do so by law …” The court also touched on Cele’s powers regarding the suspensions: “It’s the national commissioner’s prerogative as the employer to initiate investigations and disciplinary action against the second to seventh applicants as employees. The minister is responsible for determining national policing policy [section 2016 of the constitution] and the overall execution of the department’s mandate in relation to key pieces of legislation.

“The minister’s role is circumscribed and does not extend to the day-to-day employment-related affairs of the SAPS,” the court said SAPS spokesperson Vish Naidoo said they welcomed the court’s decision and that ‘‘due processes are to follow”.

Cele stuck to his guns. His spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said: “While minister Cele is on record to say he will abide by the court’s decision, please note the minister stands by what and why he had written to the police commissioner. Writing to the commissioner was not to stop the process but highlight that the IGI [Dintwe] should have discussed the matter with him first, as stated in law.”

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