Zuma cops flak
President Jacob Zuma's appointment of Mangwashi "Riah" Phiyega as the first woman police commissioner has been criticised as nothing but a "big flop" - including by members of the ruling party.
Yesterday, security experts, opposition parties and senior ANC sources slammed Zuma's latest choice, saying the human resources practitioner came with "nothing but certificates".
ANC members who spoke shortly after Zuma announced Phiyega's appointment at the Union Buildings, criticised the president's decision, saying he was not resolving the chaos in the police service but was more intent on securing his political survival ahead of the all-important Mangaung elective conference in December.
"At a time when we are faced with such challenges in the police service, Zuma brings a former social worker to head the most important post in the land. This is a big flop.
"How is the new commissioner going to deal with intelligence reports that involve politicians? With her lack of experience in security matters, we are afraid that she will be a useful tool for those in power," a senior ANC member in Gauteng said.
In a late afternoon press statement, ANC's headquarters, Luthuli House, expressed its support for Phiyega, saying her knowledge of public policy and understanding of the government would help her in her job.
But others said: "Not that we want someone connected to the ANC, but surely we deserve better than this. This appointment will solve nothing other than give space for politicians to dictate terms within the SA Police Service."
Zuma also announced that he had fired Bheki Cele as police commissioner based on the report by the chairman of the board of inquiry into Cele's fitness to hold office, Judge Jakes Moloi.
Zuma said he had a detailed discussion with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa about the corrective measures that needed to be adopted immediately.
"These include management and financial systems as well as the breaches of information security within the establishment, which have unfortunately become common.
"We have in the past few weeks witnessed a disappointing spectacle of police officers jeopardising state security by placing information in the public domain, in contravention of their oath of office.
"This is unacceptable and intolerable if the fight against crime is to continue being effective," he said.
While Zuma portrayed Phiyega as the ideal antidote to the internal strife plaguing the upper echelons of the police, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Johan Burger labelled the appointment as a slap in the face of police management.
"Clearly, once again, Zuma has not learnt from the previous two mistakes in appointing civilians and politicians to head the police service," Burger said, referring to Phiyega's predecessors - the jailed Jackie Selebi and now-fired Cele.
Burger said though in principle the reasons for firming up management and financial systems of the police service might appear to be good, Zuma's stance on information security within the police was "extremely worrying".
"While I have nothing against the new appointment, this crackdown on information leaks is something that needs to be guarded against.
"Instead of welcoming the public airing of financial abuses, Zuma is shutting down the avenues for information to become public."
Burger said there was a "need for more openness, not less" and that the new appointment was an indictment on police management.
"It shows what the president really thinks of those good hard-working members, of whom there are many.
"What we need is another commissioner, like [Nhlanhla] Mkhwanazi, who is prepared to stand up and show the country and the world that there are good, hard-working and honest members within the core of the police," he said.
DA leader Helen Zille described the appointment of the new commissioner as an act of "desperation" designed to muster support for Zuma ahead of Mangaung.
Zille said Zuma should have appointed someone with a demonstrable ability to fight crime.
Mthethwa, the ANC Women's League and police union Popcru welcomed Phiyega's appointment, saying she brought with her a "wealth of experience on strategic leadership and sound management background" .
Phiyega's experience within government has been limited. Her only real exposure came when she was appointed by Zuma as chairman of the Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Review Committee in October 2010.
The committee was appointed to review all entities including SOEs, agencies, utilities as well as companies within which the state has significant shareholding. It was given a deadline of September 2011 to submit a final report but had failed to deliver by March this year.
Before this, Phiyega spent her time in the corporate sector until she fell foul of Absa CEO Maria Ramos.
The two had worked together at Transnet, where Ramos had been appointed as CEO and Phiyega had occupied various positions, including running the Transnet Foundation.
But, according to sources, she and Ramos had "personal difficulties".
Phiyega then moved to Absa. But Ramos was then appointed CEO at the bank and Phiyega knew she "would be squeezed out".
But Mthethwa insisted that her "vast" experience in both the public service and private sector would place her on perfect ground to steer the police towards "better compliance, systems integration, effective and greater accountability".
"We believe that her appointment is well-deserved as her CV speaks volumes and that her previous achievements in various management echelons are not coincidental but achieved through dedication and hard work."
The ANC Women's League also endorsed Phiyega's praises, saying it believed that a "strong woman at the helm of the police service will bring a renewed focus to overcoming the scourge of gender-based violence, such as rape, which has become a growing concern across the country".