Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
17 October 2011

About the lying Minister and the dithering President

I regret to say that I had a lovely weekend. Despite my best efforts (opening the windows, spraying water on the lawns of the block of flats I stay in, praying to the mosquito gods), no infestation of mosquito’s took place. I was so hoping for those mosquitos to arrive en masse, so to speak, so that I could book myself and my partner into the One and Only Hotel in the hope that someone else would pick up the bill. (Who might have paid for such a frolic is unclear, but I work for a public university and I am basically “public property” so maybe the Vice Chancellor would have ordered tax payers money to be used to cover the R25 000 bill for such a stay. Or perhaps some starving children somewhere in a small rural village in the Eastern Cape would have been kind enough to pay.)

Today, back at work after a lovely – mosquito-free – weekend, I completed my study of the report by the Public Protector into allegations of a breach of the Executive Ethics Code by Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Mr Sicelo Shiceka. And what interesting reading this report made. Apart from learning that the Minister claims that he was entitled to stay in the most expensive Hotel in Cape Town “due to an influx of mosquitoes” experienced by the Minister at his official house (presumably because shops in Cape Town had all run out of mosquito repellent and Doom on that particular day), I have also learnt that one of the Ministers in our government is a bare faced liar, but – at the time of writing – remains a Minister nevertheless.

He lied about not visiting his drug-dealing girlfriend in a Swiss jail while on a so called study tour of that country. He probably lied about  meeting officials from the Euro 2008 soccer tournament while he was there. He definitely lied about having been asked to go to Switzerland by Danny Jordaan. He lied to then President Kgalema Motlanthe about the nature of the trip and why it was necessary to go on it. He lied about being sick after he had claimed in a radio interview that he is playing golf and is healthy and ready to return to work. He lied about not staying at the Lesotho Sun Hotel (and then tried to get his department to pay for this private trip, which he claimed he never went on).

On top of that, the Minister appears not to be a very good liar. If he can’t even be trusted to lie properly, how can we trust him with being a good Minister? I mean, surely the first thing they teach one at political school is that  if one falsely denies something one must make sure that there is no readily available evidence to show that one has lied. If one denies visiting a girlfriend in prison, say, one should probably first ensure that the authorities at the prison in Switserland won’t have proof that one’s denial is false.

It also helps not to make a claim that one is sick, when this directly contradicts another claim one has made in a radio interview that one is as healthy as can be (which means one cannot say that one has been misquoted or quoted out of context). If one denies ever staying at a Hotel, one should preferably have paid one’s bill and should have been unobtrusive. One’s Department should preferably not have issued an accommodation voucher for one’s stay in that Hotel with details that read: SICELOMR SHICEKA (DPLG – DEPT PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT) – see Voucher reproduced below.

I mean, the Minister is really not very good at this kind of thing, as this small section of the Report dealing with the Minister’s denial that he ever stayed at the Lesotho Sun Hotel illustrates:  

The evidence also shows that Mr Shiceka provided TWF with the room numbers at the hotel which corresponds with the room numbers on the final invoice issued.  The invoice further shows that telephone calls were made from room 328 by the SAPS VIP Protector that accompanied Mr Shiceka, the late Mr B Mthethwa to: (a) Mr Shiceka’s Private Secretary, Ms Z Mabuza (Mogala), (b) Ms G Ncube an official of Kwela Fleet Management and, ostensibly to arrange for a petrol card for Mr Shiceka’s transport in his official vehicle; and (c) Mr V Mokadi, a SAPS VIP Protector assigned to Mr Shiceka.

Mr Shiceka is now claiming that the procedure followed by the Public Protector was flawed, “that an injustice has being meted out against him and his rights have been crossly violated,” adding that he co-operated fully with the investigation. The Minister also categorically rejected all the findings of the Public Protector as baseless and lacking in evidence to support its recommendations, according to his office. “Accordingly, the Minister will challenge this matter in court.”

Maybe I am a bit cynical, but I will add this last statement to the long list of lies told by the Minister. There is not ever going to be a court challenge as there is no legal basis for such a challenge and as such a challenge will expose the Minister to further humiliation and will reveal even more starkly how dishonest he is and what overwhelming evidence exist to demonstrate that he is not only a liar, but a bad liar.

Mr Shiceka first demanded to be provided with a provisional report “as per established rule” and once he was provided with such a report claimed that his rights have been grossly violated because such a provisional report was issued. These are the actions of a person who is seriously incompetent – even when lying and misusing our money – who is not trustworthy and should not be allowed to be a second hand car salesman, let alone a Minister in our government.

Moreover, quite troubling, witnesses interviewed by the Public Protector were approached by Minister Shiceka and his advisors after he received the provisional report and they were then questioned in connection with the information provided to the Public Protector. As the Public Protector writes, this gave rise to a perception of victimisation and the possibility that witnesses would be occupationally disadvantaged because they spoke the truth. This came after the provisional report stated that witnesses interviewed during the investigation feared victimisation. As one witness told the Public Protector:  “What the Minister wants the Minister gets or else you are gone.” The Report then continues:

It is of further concern that Mr Shiceka in his response purports to speak on behalf of these witnesses. Of particular concern is that Mr Shiceka laments not being given the opportunity to cross examine witnesses when his own response suggests that he or his advisory team did indeed do so. This on its own raises ethical issues, especially in the light of the provisions of the Protected Disclosures Act, 2000.

This raises the question of whether the Minister – apart from being a liar – is perhaps also a bully or a thug. I advise anyone who would like to come to the defence of the Minister to read the full Report of the Public Protector.

It makes for disturbing reading regarding the mind-set of the Minister involved and poses questions about what kind of organisation  or institutional culture could have given rise to such a mind-set. Is this an isolated case, or are some other cabinet ministers also infected with this kind of incompetence, venality and arrogance? I would guess that no reasonable person who reads this report and sees that much of it is based on incontrovertible evidence – including documentation the veracity of which is beyond dispute – would not conclude that the President must act immediately.

Which means that the President has a duty immediately to fire the Minister. Yet, this has not happened. President Jacob Zuma is said to have “taken note” of the Public Protector’s report. Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj told a newspaper that “the President trusts that the work being done by the office of the Public Protector will help prevent the misuse of public funds and strengthen good governance”. Maharaj would not be drawn on any timeframes for the possible implementation of the Protector’s recommendations.

It took me an hour or two this morning to read the Report and to conclude that the Minister must be fired immediately to protect our government from further embarrassment. Every day this man remains a member of government (or even an ordinary member of Parliament) is a day in which the taint of dishonesty and corruption is ever more closely associated with our government, the governing party and the President who leads both.

As anyone who has read the Report will know, this is a not a case in which reasonable people could possibly dispute the fact that Minister Shiceka is a liar and a dishonourable person. The President has a right to fire any cabinet Minister when he wishes to do so. These are political appointments and the normal rules of labour law or natural justice do not apply. Claiming that “processes” need to be followed before the President could act on this matter would therefore itself be a blatant lie.

If the President wants to fire the Minister he has every legal right to do so at any time. He can just phone one of the Gupta brothers and to get their permission and then he can go ahead and dismiss the Minister. (Well, the part about the Guptas is not in the Constitution, I must confess.) He could have fired the Minister long ago and he could have fired the Minister after the Report was made public and before anyone could have the time to say “mosquito”. Yet for some inexplicable reason he has not done so. It is inexplicable because it is in the President’s own interest to get rid of this incompetent liar as soon as possible. Every day that passes without the President firing the Minister is a day in which the perception will grow that the President himself is a person who does not care when his Ministers tell blatant lies, bully their staff and waste money.

President Zuma, what are you waiting for?

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