Jacobs vs Sitole: Treasury note allowed for emergency PPE procurement from slush fund, confirming suspended CI boss’ claim
By Marianne Thamm (Source: Daily Maverick)
A treasury directive to National Commissioner Khela Sitole appears to corroborate suspended Crime Intelligence Divisional Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs’ defence that the Secret Services Account (SSA) was authorised to procure emergency PPE supplies during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The note to Sitole, dated 23 June 2020 from Treasury Chief Director; Justice and Protection Services, Dr Rendani Randela, sets out revised budgets for the Crime Intelligence Secret Services Account and makes provision for emergency PPE procurement.
An amount of R526,459 was set aside with Randela reminding the National Commissioner that “given this unprecedented period of Covid-19, the Division must ensure that it maintains compliance with the prescripts of the Public Finance Management Act and the Treasury Regulations, including relevant supply chain management prescripts.”
The note requested the division to keep an audit trail of “all Covid-19 related transactions and spending, including any emergency procurement undertaken.”
Until there was greater clarity on the impact of Covid-19 on the division’s “baseline” all “non-core functions and activities should be delayed where possible”, wrote Randela.
Daily Maverick has requested Dr Randela in an email to verify the treasury document. At the time of writing we had not heard back from him and will update the story should the response be provided.
Sitole and Inspector General of Intelligence, Setlhomamaru Dintwe, have both insisted that the secret account should not have been used by Crime Intelligence for PPE procurement and accused Jacobs of flouting regulations.
Dintwe, whose office is in fact funded by the Secret Service Account, said it should be utilised only “for the services of a secret nature” .
The IG had investigated the alleged illegal Crime Intelligence PPE procurement after a tip-off.
Sitole, who immediately implemented measures to suspend Jacobs after receiving only a preliminary report from Dintwe, has also dug in saying Jacobs “ought to have been aware” that the slush fund “ought not to be used for such activities in terms of relevant principles.”
Minister of Police Bheki Cele entered the fray on 1 December 2020 when he asked Sitole to place all suspensions at Crime Intelligence in “abeyance” while he awaited the final report from the IG.
Cele reminded Sitole that by law the IG report should have come to the office of the Minister and not that of the National Commissioner.
Sitole on 4 December wrote back that he was forging ahead with the suspensions regardless.
On 30 November 2020 Jacobs was served with a notice of suspension as well as a notice of misconduct by Sitole.
Other Crime Intelligence officials in the chain of command – CI’s head of covert intelligence collection, Major-General Josias Lekalakala, intelligence planning and monitoring head, Brigadier Deon Lombard, and Colonels Waljee, Gopal and Matamenla – were notified of their suspensions on Thursday, 10 December 2020.
Earlier, on 2 December, Jacobs challenged the suspension setting out the PPE procurement had been authorised by the treasury directive and that he was happy to hand to the SIU and the IG any documents relating to the tenders.
He requested Sitole to recuse himself from any disciplinary hearings and to allow for an independent panel to hear the charges against him.
The Crime Intelligence head has been pitted in an ongoing battle with Deputy Commissioner Crime Detection; Lieutenant-General Sindile Mfazi, whom he has accused of workplace bullying and threats.
Jacobs has also accused Mfazi of attempting to restructure Crime Intelligence and said he [Jacobs] was being targeted for having instituted disciplinary charges against various members of CI.
Shortly after Jacobs had been informed of the intention to suspend him, Mfazi announced during a Zoom meeting with divisions that he was taking over as acting Divisional Commissioner Crime Intelligence, effectively placing him in control of the Secret Service Account.
Sitole, who announced on 15 December 2020 that he had tested positive for Covid, has not yet made any public announcements about Mfazi’s appointment as acting head of this key division as is customary.
Jacobs, in his response to the notice of suspension, placed firmly at Sitole’s door a leak of the preliminary IG report to the Sunday World and which sought to implicate him in corruption.
The report should never have been sent to Sitole, said Jacobs, and the confidentiality of the matter had been breached.
Sitole, in his response defying Cele’s instruction, said that as the SAPS accounting officer the Public Finance Management Act he was compelled to “act on allegations of financial misconduct which motivated the disciplinary action that was taken in this instance”.
He said Dintwe’s office itself had been of the view that the preliminary findings of his report “should be brought to my attention”.
Sitole argued in a linguistic sleight of hand that the disciplinary procedures that were initiated against Jacobs and others were “a separate and independent process from the IG’s duty to submit a report to the Minister”.
Until such time as Dintwe submitted his final report to Cele, Sitole insisted, he was going ahead with the suspensions.
“While I do appreciate the Honorable Minister’s intervention… I must with respect and humility indicate to the Minister that as the Accounting Officer of the SAPS, I have checked the facts and the law on the matter with the aim of executing the Honourable Minister’s directive, and found it is not within my powers to hold the matter in abeyance.”
The 23 June 2020 letter to Sitole from the treasury appears to contradict this as it clearly sets out that emergency PPE procurement from the SSA was authorised.
The treasury note also appears not to have been uncovered during Dintwe’s investigation as the IG has remained adamant that procurement regulations were violated.
Jacobs, who is currently on sick leave, is preparing a legal challenge to his suspension. DM