Minister's U-turn on police HQ deal
Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde is ready to go to court to get the R500-million police headquarters leasing deal that her department signed with property mogul Roux Shabangu cancelled.
Mahlangu-Nkabinde made the announcement at a hastily arranged press conference at a Pretoria hotel yesterday afternoon.
"I've made up my mind; I am going to court," she said.
The dramatic about-turn follows a series of exposés in the Sunday Times since August last year about Shabangu and two of his property deals that were allegedly facilitated by national police commissioner Bheki Cele.
The deals are the R500-million 10-year lease for the Middestad building in Pretoria, and a R1.1-billion deal between Shabangu and Public Works for the police's KwaZulu-Natal provincial headquarters in Durban. The Durban deal has lapsed.
Mahlangu-Nkabinde was criticised by Public Protector Thulisile Madonsela in her report on the Pretoria police deal in February.
The Sunday Times this week detailed the contents of a draft of the Public Protector's second report into the lease scandal, titled "Against the Rules Too", which follows an earlier report in which she stated that the Pretoria lease was "invalid".
"Against the Rules Too" is marked "provisional". It was sent to Mahlangu-Nkabinde, Shabangu and Cele, and to President Jacob Zuma, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. They have until Thursday to comment on its content.
According to the Public Protector's report:
- Mahlangu-Nkabinde was guilty of "improper" conduct and failed in "statesmanship" for going ahead with both leases after two legal opinions found them to be invalid;
- Mahlangu-Nkabinde put pressure on her director-general, Siviwe Dongwana, to sign the two leases;
- Cele was guilty of "maladministration" and "unlawful" conduct for driving the R1.1-billion Durban deal;
- The Treasury should consider blacklisting Shabangu's company, Roux Property Fund, for its involvement in "unlawful and irregular procurement";
- Rentals for both buildings were inflated by up to 300%. In Durban alone, floor space worth R78-million was added without justification; and
- A new tender issued for the Durban lease in April, but shelved after the Sunday Times exposed it last month, was allegedly rigged to suit a previous offer by Shabangu.
The Sunday Times reported this week that Public Works director-general Dongwana feared for his and his family's safety and believed that his phone was being tapped. He said he had been pressured into approving the two dodgy police lease deals.
Mahlangu-Nkabinde's predecessor, Geoff Doidge, was axed by Zuma on October 31, soon after he launched ab internal investigation was launched. Doidge had halted the R1.1-billion Durban lease pending the outcome of the investigation and suspended the R500-million Pretoria lease.
Days after Zuma appointed Mahlangu-Nkabinde as Minister of Public Works, on November 1, she reinstated the Pretoria deal with Shabangu.
Yesterday, Mahlangu-Nkabinde said that when the leases were "concluded in July 2010" she was "still the deputy minister of economic development so I could not have applied pressure to anyone".
She said she sought an opinion from the chief state law adviser because she was "not comfortable" with earlier reports she had received as "not all the players were interviewed".
"I asked the chief state law adviser to walk me through what happened ever since Mr Shabangu started communicating with the department. He discovered a number of truths and untruths," she said.
"He said I must seek assistance from the high court and, if the court looks at the contract and says it is invalid and sets it aside, and a new process is opened, I will be very comfortable because that puts all speculation to rest."
A court date has not been set but Mahlangu-Nkabinde said she had "started engaging my legal unit" and court papers would be filed "in due course".
She said she had intended to announce her court action later this week but decided to do so yesterday after the Sunday Times report made it "urgent" for her to do so. She slammed media reports based on the leaked draft as "malicious" and "aimed at defaming and demeaning" the government, and her ministry.
Yesterday, the office of the Public Protector said it would approach the SA National Editor's Forum to complain that the Sunday Times had published findings from a leaked copy of the "Against the Rules Too" report.
The CEO of the Public Protector's office, Themba Mthethwa, said the office was "utterly disgusted" by the leaking of the report and the "emerging trend" of reporting on leaked documents, which "undermines justice, fairness and the integrity of the investigations".
Cele's spokesman, Nonkululeko Mbatha, said yesterday that she ''knew nothing" about Mahlangu-Nkabinde's decision to take the contract with Shabangu to court. - Additional reporting by Retha Grobbelaar