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Wed Apr 23 17:28:12 SAST 2014

Sicelo Shiceka, Minister of lies

MZILIKAZI WA AFRIKA, STEPHAN HOFSTATTER and ROB ROSE | 17 September, 2009 05:43
Sicelo Shiceka. File photo.

Disgraced Minister of Cooperative Governance Sicelo Shiceka has been exposed as a liar and a fraud in a damning report into his abuse of public funds by the public protector, Thuli Madonsela.

And his excuse for blowing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer rands on flights and five-star accommodation - even while on sick leave - is that he felt entitled to it, as he was "the property of the state".

These are among the key findings of the public protector after an exhaustive five-month probe following a Sunday Times exposé in April.

She found that he:

  • Splurged R546864 - far more than the R367000 initially suspected - on a luxury trip to visit his convicted drug-dealer girlfriend, Phumla Masilela, in Switzerland, while pretending it was on official business;
  • Blew R521062 on accommodation for him and his staff at Cape Town's luxury One & Only hotel, and R58646 on other five-star hotels in Cape Town;
  • Even after being given an official residence, kept staying at the luxury hotel at a cost of R90475. On one occasion, he said this was "due to [the] influx of mosquitoes" at his house; and
  • Booked into the Lesotho Sun under a fake name while on sick leave, then tried to get the government to pick up his R25277 tab.

Despite his denials, the Sunday Times understands Shiceka's visit to Masilela was captured on the prison's CCTV cameras.

We can also reveal that Masilela - who at first admitted the visit took place, then denied it and took the Sunday Times to the press ombudsman - confirmed to the public protector that Shiceka had visited her.

Madonsela yesterday said she was disappointed that Shiceka had lied to her and the people of South Africa.

"The minister lied about not going to the prison and also about not staying at the Lesotho Sun. He was also dishonest about why he stayed at the One & Only hotel, citing an influx of mosquitoes at his house."

In her final report, released on Friday, she said Shiceka's actions were "unlawful and constituted maladministration [and] dishonesty in respect of public money".

In April, the Sunday Timesrevealed how Shiceka had used taxpayer money in December 2008 to visit Masilela, while pretending to be on official "World Cup duties".

Madonsela found that "the only reasonable conclusion that can be made from evidence obtained during the investigation is that Shiceka's trip to Switzerland was not of an official nature and that its only purpose was for him to visit Masilela in prison."

At least 20 witnesses were interviewed in South Africa and Switzerland, and voluminous documents were obtained. These included written confirmation by the Anstalten Hindelbank prison of Shiceka's visit.

The report states that witnesses and prison officials confirmed that Shiceka visited Masilela twice.

Danny Jordaan, head of the World Cup Organising Committee, also rejected Shiceka's claim that he went to Switzerland on World Cup business at Jordaan's urging.

Madonsela says Shiceka's trip cost taxpayers R546864.

The report also confirms that Shiceka "deliberately misled" Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who was then president, about the purpose of his visit.

Madonsela found his visit was "of no benefit or any value to the state".

She also criticised him for numerous other violations, including travelling to Lesotho while on sick leave at taxpayers' expense under a fake name.

"Shiceka ... required of the department to make a fraudulent misrepresentation to a hotel in a foreign country."

The report also reveals how Shiceka blew over R70000 on domestic flights and accommodation, including seven nights at a five-star hotel in Durban to consult with "medical practitioners who are part of the team attending his health issues" while he was on sick leave.

Asked to explain this, Shiceka's office said he deserved these perks because "he remains the property of the state, and all benefits are available during his term of office, irrespective of his condition".

But the public protector found that he "was on sick leave and not entitled to such a privilege".

Shiceka has been on sick leave since February this year, and President Jacob Zuma is now under pressure to fire him .

Shiceka left a R25277 unpaid hotel bill in Lesotho after he had tried - but failed - to persuade his department to pay for it. He was there with his mother and bodyguard on a private visit.

The report reveals that he also stayed at other five-star hotels in Cape Town after moving into his official residence, which cost taxpayers a further R58646.

The public protector recommended that Zuma take "serious action" against him and instructed the director-general of his department to recover taxpayers' money.

On Friday, Shiceka said he "categorically rejects all the findings of the public protector as baseless and lacking in evidence to support its recommendations", vowing to fight Madonsela in court to clear his name.

While claiming to respect the public protector's office, he attacked Madonsela for a "charade" aimed at discrediting him.

Shiceka said he found it "peculiar as to who gave the public protector the permission to enter [Lesotho] and conduct clandestine investigations" and said he would take up the matter with the Lesotho government.

Shiceka yesterday refused to speak to the Sunday Times, referring all questions to his spokesman, who could not be reached. - investigations@sundaytimes.co.za

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