Public Service and Administration Minister Sicelo Shiceka has confirmed that government has swapped Correctional Services commissioner Vernie Petersen and his Sport and Recreation counterpart director general Xolisa Sibeko with effect from 27 October.
He says the transfers were done “in the best interest of the whole government and the country”.
“I made the decision believing that the skills of both heads of department will enhance delivery in their respective new portfolios,” he said in a statement released to the media late last week.
“I have used the powers vested in me as acting minister of public services and administration to facilitate the transfer of these heads of departments. We trust that the skills of former National Commissioner of Correctional Services, Mr Vernie Petersen, can help accelerate the country`s preparation for hosting of 2010 Soccer World Cup, which we want to be the biggest and most successful sports spectacle in this country.
“While on the other side we believe the former director general of Sport and Recreation, Miss Xolisa Sibeko, can best expedite the delivery of offender rehabilitation programs, and the transformation of correctional services.
“I must also state that the transfers are done in terms of the legislative and policy prescript of government and are a normal practise in South Africa, and in any country. Both heads of department have been properly consulted on the matter and have consented to the arrangement.
“I therefore call on all affected parties to understand and allow the two heads of department to settle and deliver on their new contractual obligations. Government is committed to ensure accelerated service delivery, and good governance in a business unusual manner.”
Democratic Alliance prisons spokesman James Selfe has described the transfer as worrying. “While the Democratic Alliance (DA) respects the right of our valued public servants to advance their careers, this situation is worrying for a number of reasons,” he said in a statement.
“Firstly, it is well-known – and indeed, was the subject of a briefing to the Correctional Services Committee – that the Minister [Ngconde Balfour] and the National Commissioner were at loggerheads about the way in which a contract should be awarded for catering services in the Department.
”In terms of correspondence available to the committee, it was clear that the Minister wished the existing contract [held by black empowerment group Bosasa] to be extended for a year, whilst the Commissioner was of the view that a transactional advisor should advise DCS on the terms of the contract before it was awarded.
“Secondly, we know that aspects of the contract, and the manner of its award, are being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit. The committee needs to be reassured that this investigation is ongoing.
“Thirdly, the National Commissioner suspended two regional commissioners, one of whom was integrally involved in the award of the original contract. The Minister wanted this same official to head up a committee to adjudicate the extension of this contract. The committee needs to be reassured that the National Commissioner`s transfer is unconnected to his suspension of this official, and that the official will remain suspended until all the charges against him have been dealt with.
Speaking at a media conference last week, Intelligence Services minister Siyabonga Cwele said any “suggestion that it is a cover-up for any corruption is not really founded because those who are responsible for that type of investigation may continue with such an investigation.”
Justice minister Enver Surty gave an “assurance that we certainly would not interfere in any process with regard to any investigation, whether it involves a minister or otherwise”.
“I think the joint ethics committee has a particular task at hand, and they should carry out that task without any interference, that assurance we could give to the public and to the media,” Surty said.
Bosasa, headed by former anti-apartheid rugby player and activist Gavin Watson, has been dogged by controversy for years. The billion-rand business has several other big-ticket prison contracts, including for the fencing of prisons with a proprietary tamper-proof fence and a interference-proof surveillance and access control system.
The company also manages the hullabaloo-prone Lindela repatriation centre for the Department of Home Affairs.