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S. Africa Watchdog Urges Action on 'Unlawful, Invalid' Government Leases

South Africa’s Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated government watchdog, has challenged President Jacob Zuma to take action against the public works minister, the national police commissioner and senior officials on two public leases she has found to be invalid and unlawful.

In the second of two reports critical of office space leases for the national and regional police headquarters in Pretoria and Durban, Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela has found that the public works minister, the national police commissioner and other senior officials acted improperly and in some instances, unlawfully.

“This rendered the process unlawful and further constituted improper conduct and maladministration. The lease agreement should not have been entered into, as it did not comply with validity requirements of the constitution, applicable legislation, prescripts, and the instructions of the accounting officer,” Madonsela said.

Madonsela also said that Public Works Minister, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, failed to cooperate as required by law with her investigation. She recommended that President Jacob Zuma take appropriate action against the minister.

“The first is that the president has to consider taking action against the minister for public works for her actions as referred to in this report [on the office space in Durban], as well as the report of the Public Protector on the Middestad building [in Pretoria],” Madonsela said.

The Public Protector investigated the two leases following complaints lodged with her office. In both cases she found the leases were concluded for amounts greatly in excess of rates for equivalent space. She found the police needed new office space but that a so-called official needs analysis was altered in each case to meet the specifications of the two buildings for which leases were signed.

Both buildings are owned by the same property entrepreneur and there have been reports, denied by him, that he has a close relationship with both National Police Commissioner, Bheki Cele and Mr Zuma. Mr Zuma has not commented on these allegations and commissioner Cele denied knowing the entrepreneur.

Madonsela said she believes the president will take appropriate action now that both reports have been released. “I am not prescribing to the president what [he should] do, but I expect him to do the right thing,” Madonsela said.

Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Cele say they will comment on the report in due course. President Zuma issued a statement acknowledging receipt of the report and says he will comment once he has reviewed it and consulted with his advisors.