Controversial Minister in the Department of Co-operative governance and Traditional Affairs, Sicelo Shiceka, has been exposed several times before and even more recently as quite an excessive spender of taxpayers’ money. What is not unknown, however, is whether his reported spending spree tendency, if not habit, is negligent or not. And until then, what is left of us is to just speculate what should happen and what should not happen.
Shiceka has come under fire recently after the Sunday Times newspaper reported him as having spent just over 1 million on luxury hotels and traveling. He reportedly “abused taxpayers’ money to lead a lifestyle befitting a multimillionaire”, according to an extensive investigation by the newspaper published on 10 April this year.
According to documents seen by the newspaper at the time, the minister – who allegedly “went on a spending spree almost immediately after being appointed to the cabinet in September 2008” by President Jacob Zuma – had spent:
- R335000 on first class flights with his personal assistant, Ayanda Mdala, and staying in a five-star hotel to visit his girlfriend, Phumla Masilela, in prison in Switzerland,
- R32000 on a hired chauffeur-driven limo to visit Masilela in prison,
- R640000 in just one year for himself and his staff for staying at the One & Only which he reportedly admitted that about R280000 was spent on him alone,
- R55793 for a just one-night stay at the One & Only during President Jacob Zuma’s first State of the Nation address where he also admitted being accompanied by a “father figure” male,
- More than R160000 in just eight months flying 10 family members – including his wife, Cleopatra Shiceka, and girlfriend (Masilela) around the country at taxpayers’ expense.
For him to be granted permission to go to Switzerland for five days on official capacity and only to visit his so-called girlfriend during that time – Shiceka was booked “a presidential suite”, according to travel documents seen by the newspaper which it said were written in a letter to the Ministry of International Relations regarding his travel arrangements, and was to be accompanied by Mdala “to give [him] administrative and personal support”. The letter further indicates that the minister visited the country under false pretence, saying the visit was “an official visit in his capacity as chairman of the soccer World Cup host cities’ forum” so as to “benefit from the Swiss experience of hosting the World Cup” which the country held in 1954.
The newspaper reported that the same letter to the ministry said the Shiceka “had been advised by the Local Organising Committee members in general, and Mr Danny Jordaan in particular, that he should visit many countries that have significance in the hosting of this soccer extravaganza”. This, however, was not true because correspondences from the South African embassy in Bern to Shiceka’s in response to a request to set up meetings with Euro Cup officials had revealed that not only had the tournament’s infrastructure been disbanded, but that the meetings would not be possible as people had already “gone on holidays” at the time.
And to make things worse, the so-called personal assistant who was to provide Shiceka with “administrative and personal support” told the newspaper that she did no such thing, saying “there was no other meeting I attended”. Instead the only thing she did was visiting the prison with the minister, she told Sunday Times newspaper.
Although Shiceka has denied this, but the newspaper reported that he tried to get his department to pay his inflated hotel bill from R25277 to R357120 for his stay at theLesothoSun inMaseruwhere he allegedly spent four nights with his mother and bodyguard. The invoices by the agent Travel with Flair were apparently submitted but were not paid because the travel agent failed to explain the “inflated invoices”.
On allegations and questions put to him, Shiceka:
- Denied ever checking in atLesothoSun or been in a limousine,
- Denied submitting “inflated invoices” for his Switzerland trip, saying they were doctored or fabricated despite being shown a travel claim with his name on it,
- Admitted that Masilela was his lover then,
- Claimed SA embassy official Tshivhula had personally invited him toSwitzerlandalthough Tshivhula ‘categorically’ denied this as laughable,
- Admitted to having spent over R55000 for one night at the One & Only, and justifying it by asking: “What is wrong with that?” and that “every other hotel was full [at the time]”,
- Admitted to putting Mr. Mtambo in the hotel at taxpayers’ expense as he was his “father figure” and because “The Ministerial Handbook allows it”,
Dictatorial leadership style
Unfortunately, Shiceka is not new to controversy, if you know what I mean.
In May last year the Mail & Guardian newspaper reported Shiceka while minister in the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs as some kind of a dictator. At the time, staff in the department told the newspaper that they were afraid of Shiceka because of “dictatorial” leadership style.
Fraudulent master’s Degree
What the Mail & Guardian further revealed at the time was that the minister did not have a Master’s Degree as he claimed. The newspaper established that the qualification did not exist. This after the minister’s curriculum in the department’s web site listed his master’s degree in political economy as having been obtained from the University of the Free State.
When confronted with the allegations, the then spokesperson for the minister, Vuyelwa Qinga-Vika said the minister was still studying for the degree “with a few modules outstanding”. This, however, was denied by the university. Lacea Loader, the university spokesperson, told the M&G at the time that the minister “was registered here from 2004 to 2005 but he never completed the degree”. She indicated that there was no record of him re-registering to complete the programme with the university. And it was after these allegations were perused by the newspaper that his profile on the web site was edited to enlist the degree as “current studies, the Mail & Guardian reported at the time.
Improper use of state resources
At the time when Mail & Guardian reported of Shiceka’s dodgy Curriculum Vitae, there were other staff members in his department who were said to be angry for his alleged “improper use of state resources to fund” his lifestyle.
According to the newspaper, this came after he was accused of misusing a Mercedes-Benz arguably acquired for the use of Nomatyala Hangana, the former deputy minister of the department, and order it to be made available to Nomvula Mabuza, who lived with his wife. Insiders told the newspaper at the time that Hangana was a “recognised spouse” for the minister “in terms of the rules governing ministerial benefits”.
Mail & Guardian reported that a minister was allowed to “give up his own official vehicle for use by a spouse, but Shiceka (had) not done so”. It said cabinet ministers were also allowed two official cars, one for use inCape Town, where Shiceka had a Mercedes, and a second one forPretoria, where he had an Audi Q7. “The Mercedes apparently used by Mabuza would mean he has three official vehicles,” reported the newspaper last year.
Dumisani Nkwamba, then spokesperson for the Department of Public Service and Administration, told the newspaper 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”. And it was after M&G raised questions about the car that it was returned despite Shiceka denying any impropriety, with Mabuza also denying to the newspaper that he was allocated the car.
Qinga-Vika told the newspaper that the car was returned to Kgwerano Asset Finance because its lease period had not yet expired. She said the care was “on occasion used as the minister’s escort vehicle; and this was not on a daily basis, but only when it was necessary”. “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,” she said.
Qinga-Vika would not say how much it had cost the department to keep a third ministerial car for a year after the new political heads took office and acquired new vehicles, but instead said the “billing of the vehicle was fixed for the entire rental period with standard applicable rental rates”.
Birthday party for mommy
The “excessive” spending minister was also accused of having spent taxpayers’ money on her mother’s birthday party, Oscarina Shiceka, on October 3 2009, although her birthday was said by family members to be on October 4.
There were, however, different versions to what happened. This as some officials told the newspaper that the event was a celebration to reward the minister’s supporters for this appointment to the cabinet while others said the party was listed as a Pondoland Revival Project function for funding purposes. However, it emerged that the said project was launched in March the previous year, 2009, as a joint venture between the department and the Ingquza Hill local municipality to boost local economic development and service delivery.
Unfortunately, the event raised eye-brows as to why the municipality was not involved in the party. But Simphiwe Thobela, head of communications at the municipality at the time, admitted knowing about the function, but said it was hosted by the “minister in his home town but as the municipality we were not part of it”. Thobela said the municipality was told that the minister had hosted the party to “enlighten people about the projects taking place in the area and [that] 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,” said Thobela.
But despite Thobela’s assertion, two senior employees of the department told the newspaper at the time that the party was paid for from the cooperative governance budget. One official even said the “only officials who attended that party were from [the mister’s] office. “If it was a departmental function, why was there no one from the department?” he asked.
Qinga-Vika said Shiceka viewed the allegation “in a serious light” and that there was “no truth to it” but confirmed that the department had no record of such a function or any expenditure recorded in its budget for the Pondoland project. So, what does that mean?
Forensic reports identify misconduct
Shiceka has reportedly been reluctant to act on the findings of two forensic reports that identified misconduct in the department. Mail & Guardian reported at the same time last year that it was in possession of a list of 58 financial transactions declared irregular by the department’s procurement division.
The newspaper said the transactions, amounting to a total of R1, 8-million since April 2009, were all from the minister’s office in the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
On these, Qinga-Vika told the newspaper that Elroy Africa, who was the department’s director general at the time, had already called in the people involved in these irregular financial transactions. Apparently Africa found their explanation as “satisfactory”. Qinga-Vika said in line with the provisions entailed in the Public Finance Management Act,Africa “accordingly condoned those expenditures as he found them to have been done with no intention to benefit any individual or to violate the law”.
Just this week, Sunday Times reported the Shiceka – also in charge of local government that is marred by lack of service delivery which has recently led to many community protests and have last week resulted in police shooting and beating to death one of the protesters, Andries Tabane – was busy building what it called a “palace” in his home village of Ingquza Hill in the Eastern Cape province. The village, apparently situated in one of the province’s “poorest district”, had witnessed community protested due to lack of service delivery such as water, electricity and sewerage.
According to the report, municipal trucks were busy last week carrying water to the minister’s house while no water was delivered to most of the community members. The villagers protested outside theIngquzaHillMunicipality officer where they demanded the major, William Ngozi, to provide them with services. According to the report, the communities said: “there are no roads, no taxi ranks, no street lights and no development” and the blamed the municipality.
Despite evidence of lack of services such as running water, sanitation in the community and where roads were poor or nonexistent while the housing system was a shambles – the municipality, however, continued to devote and make sure that the constructor allegedly building the minister’s house was provided with water while the community remained without water. This was also confirmed by municipal official, Mkuseli Nomandindi, who told the newspaper that he had “authorised the water deliveries” to the minister’s new house, or palace, if you will. He said it was “not a problem to supply water there, even for a building site”. Nomandindi said he was “just following instructions”. Yeah right!
In the same village, an 83-year-old pensioner, Dambazana Nomlala, told the newspaper how she relied on her grandchildren to walk 1km to fetch water from a sluggish stream. The granny lost access to electricity because of the tsotsis who cut power to her house about two years ago. Her house remains irreparable and she now lives with relatives, she told Sunday Times newspaper. Nomlala said “all municipalities are bad” as “they have done nothing for us since 1994 – nothing”.
Promiscuous mister’s lovers on sick leave
City Press newspaper reported over the weekend how the minister is alleged to have a number of lovers, some of whom he has fathered children with. The newspaper said it had seen a “list of names said to be current and former lovers of Shiceka” despite some of these women denying having “had romantic-liaisons” with the minister, but acknowledging to only knowing him.
Free State Public Works MEC, Sisi Mabe, is one of the women alleged to have a child with the minister. But Mabe could not be reached by the newspaper to confirm or deny the allegations.
In the report, an SMS believed to have been sent by one of the minister’s lovers and seen by the newspaper showed that she was unhappy of his “control freak” behaviour and “empty promises”. But the women could neither deny or confirm the allegations. The minister is also alleged to have “enjoyed an improper relationship with a topNorth Westofficial at a bankrupt municipality whom he allegedly protected from being fired”.
City Press sources alleged the minister fathered a string of children, some of whom he even lived with him. Another source alleged to the newspaper that the minister’s “mistresses regularly complained about inadequate attention from him, and his philandering”. S/he said “it is a power thing. He [Shiceka] sees them (women) as sex objects. The problem with some of these women is that they like good things”.
A commission report marked “Top Secret” presented to formerNorth Westpremier Maureen Modiselle last year August described an “improper relationship” between Shiceka and Nana Masithela, the chief financial officer of the bankrupt Madibeng municipality. The report allegedly claims that Masithela had accompanied the minister on a trip toBelgiumlast year. Masithela is also alleged to have visited the minister inCape Town. The newspaper reported top officials as saying, according to the ‘top secret’ report, that Masithela threatened many in Madibeng especially those who would dare oppose her, and telling them that Shiceka was “protecting” her and was therefore untouchable because he had deployed her to the municipality.
Public Protector Investigation to shed light
Recent reports by the Sunday Times and The Times newspapers led to the Zuma reportedly saying “there will be no hesitation if these things that are being said are true. Absolutely no hesitation. I said so before. There are enough reasons for action to be taken”.
Zuma is further quoted as saying: “there is going to be action… and we are not going to take long even to investigate (Shiceka) because these are too serious allegations made against the minister”. The presidency has since issued a statement saying it viewed the “matter in a serious light and awaits a response to the allegations” from the minister but also warned that he will remain “innocent of the allegations unless [they are] proven otherwise”.
So, as the Presidency says, we should wait for the Public Protector’s investigations into these and many other allegations against the minister to decide and make our mind whether indeed he is guilty or not.
And as I said in the beginning and until that investigation – we are only left to speculate as to what should happen and what should not happen. But having said that, if I were Zuma, I would have long fired his a** kicked out of govt. for his ‘fruitless’ spending.
But I am not Zuma, am I?