Public Works takes police lease to court

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The Department of Public Works will ask the courts to rule on the validity of a R500 million 10-year building lease that the police had attempted to secure. Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde said at a press conference in Pretoria yesterday that she would submit the controversial Middestad Building lease to the High Court to rule on.

The lease, with property tycoon Roux Shabangu, was sharply criticised by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in February because proper tender procedures had not been followed, the South African Press Association reports. She was especially scathing of the role of national police commissioner General Bheki Cele. “The conduct of the accounting officer [Cele] … in respect of the procurement of the lease was improper and unlawful,” wrote Madonsela in her 91 page report.

The police had wanted to use the Pretoria building as their headquarters and Mahlangu-Nkabinde was criticised for proceeding with the lease despite receiving legal advice against doing so. Mahlangu-Nkabinde said: “We have taken advice from the state law adviser, and that is… I must seek assistance from the High Court.” She said she would respect any decision of the High Court, SAPA added.

Her announcement follows the publication of a leaked copy of Madonsela’s provisional report into the lease of another building in Durban – also involving Shabangu and the police. This lease would have been worth R1.1 billion. Her announcement also follows a press conference on Friday by Shabangu, who distanced himself as a “friend” of President Jacob Zuma and said he had done nothing wrong. At that press conference, he would not comment on the Middestad lease, saying that it was possibly subject to litigation. It was not clear whether he was referring to Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s decision to submit the lease to the courts.

Public works spokesman Obakeng Modikoe said he was not aware that Shabangu had been informed of the minister’s decision. Mahlangu-Nkabinde said the papers regarding the lease would be filed with the High Court shortly. Referring to the Sunday Times article, she said she was disappointed with media reports “based on what we consider to be a confidential government document. “In our view these reports remain malicious and are aimed at defaming the integrity of government, the ministry and department of public works.”

The Times newspaper adds 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 Durban lease pending the outcome of the investigation and suspended the 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 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.

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 spokeswoman, Major General Nonkululeko Mbatha, said yesterday that she ”knew nothing” about Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s decision to take the contract with Shabangu to court.