President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to institute a board of inquiry into the National Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole’s alleged misconduct and fitness to hold office.
Ramaphosa has confirmed that he has served the country’s top cop with a notice to suspend him. The President wrote to him on 20 September in connection with allegations of the failure of the commissioner to assist the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
Sitole was appointed in November 2017 by former President Jacob Zuma. He became the first police commissioner to be appointed permanently after Riah Phiyega left after an inquiry into her fitness to hold office.
In January, the High Court in Pretoria found Sitole and his team breached their duties for failing to provide declassified documents to the IPID to investigate fraud and corruption allegations.
The documents relate to the procurement of a grabber by Crime Intelligence a few days before the African National Congress’ Nasrec Conference in 2017. The Supreme Court of Appeal also dismissed Sitole’s appeal against the High Court ruling.
Sitole’s relationship with Cele
The relationship between Sitole and Police Minister Bheki Cele is reported to be tense but Cele has denied this. Cele had called for an inquiry into Sitole’s fitness to hold office following the High Court judgment.
He was also reportedly unhappy when Sitole announced senior appointments without his consideration earlier this year. Acting spokesperson in the Presidency Tyrone Seale says the President views this matter in a serious light.
“The President has indicated to the national commissioner that the issues arising from the High Court judgment are serious. The President has in terms of Section 9 of the Police Service Act of 1995 read with Section 8 of the same act deem it appropriate at this stage to institute a board of inquiry into the national commissioner’s alleged misconduct and fitness to hold the office of national commissioner. This is also merited by the public interest in the integrity of the office of the national commissioner. The President outlined this context in his letter to Sitole and gave him 14 days to respond.”
Sitole’s credibility questioned
Doctor Bernard Coetzee of the Wits Global Change Institute says it is difficult for Sitole to continue working in an environment in which his credibility is being questioned. Doctor Coetzee says this is an opportunity for Sitole’s bosses to look at their key concerns.
“How does any commissioner or public servant, how does their decision go without oversight. The fact that they are not only vested with authority but are also vested with specific duties for which they have to perform and will be judged. And we also have an opportunity to revisit what professionalism means in the public service and this case the police as an institution. So there’s a number of opportunities, even questions and also the concern and the trust and the public confidence that this is taking way too long.”
Meanwhile, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) says what is happening in the South African Police Service is concerning.
“The only thing that worries us is the timing, if indeed he was served with the notice with regard to this issue of the judgment of the grabber that’s four months after the judgment, it is only now that he is given this. We know the beef has been there between the Commissioner and the Minister of Police with regards to the executive authority and operational authority. What worries us is criminals are doing as they wish in this country, members’ morale is down and we have called for an inquiry into to the police service at large,” says Deputy General Secretary Peter Ntsime.
The President says while he considers these representations, further engagement on this matter will be between him and the National Commissioner who has since submitted representations to the President.
Sitole could not be reached for comment.