S.Africa: 2 ministers axed, police chief suspended

AP News
Posted: Oct 24, 2011 1:08 PM
S.Africa: 2 ministers axed, police chief suspended

South Africa's national police chief has been suspended and a Cabinet minister fired after the two were caught up in a police headquarters leasing scandal, President Jacob Zuma said in a nationally televised announcement Monday.

Zuma also fired another minister who an independent investigator said used taxpayer money to visit a girlfriend imprisoned in Switzerland.

The announcements followed months of calls for Zuma to act decisively against corruption.

South African political analyst Adam Habib said the moves would send a message to civil servants and governing party leaders that wrongdoing has consequences. But Habib added in an interview with the South African television station eTV that he wished Zuma had acted sooner.

In February, a report said that police chief Bheki Cele violated laws and regulations by failing to seek competitive bids when leasing police offices. Cele's "conduct was improper, unlawful and amounted to maladministration," said the report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, a government official charged with policing the civil service.

The report came less than a year after Cele's predecessor was convicted of corruption for going on shopping sprees with a convicted drug smuggler.

The Public Works Ministry was involved in the leasing deal. Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde was fired Monday. Zuma also named a three-member board of inquiry to investigate the allegations of misconduct in the leasing affair.

Also fired Monday was Sicelo Shiceka, the Cabinet minister in charge of ensuring local and national agencies work together to better serve the public. The Sunday Times had charged in April that Shiceka "abused taxpayers' money to lead a lifestyle befitting a multimillionaire."

Among other extravagances, the Johannesburg newspaper reported, Shiceka and members of his staff used public money to live for a year at a luxury Cape Town hotel. Taxpayers paid again when he flew first class to visit his girlfriend, a flight attendant jailed in Switzerland on drug charges.

After the newspaper articles were published, the public protector launched her own investigation into Shiceka's conduct. She concluded in a report earlier this month that the minister had violated ethics codes, "willfully misled" Zuma about his trip to Switzerland, and should pay taxpayers back hundreds of thousands of rand (tens of thousands of dollars) spent on unwarranted hotel stays and travel.

The Democratic Alliance, South Africa's main opposition party, said in a statement it welcomed "the firm action taken by President Jacob Zuma today in firing Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Sicelo Shiceka, and suspending Bheki Cele.

"This announcement is better late than never."