Cele launches a subtle attack on Hlela

SUSPENDED national commissioner Bheki Cele washed his hands of the controversial R1.6-billion police headquarters lease deal yesterday, laying the blame squarely on his retired head of supply chain management, Lieutenant-General Hamilton Hlela.

Taking the stand for the first time at the board of inquiry convened to test his fitness to hold office, Cele denied he was ever personally involved in the identification and procurement of buildings in Pretoria and Durban.

Instead, he admitted to having had unconditional trust in his subordinates, to the extent that he had often signed off documents without scrutinising their contents or truthfulness.

The two senior policemen have been at loggerheads over who should take the fall for signing off the lease deals at inflated rates in 2010, which led to Cele's suspension and the axing of public works minister Gwen Mahlangu- Nkabinde.

On Monday, Hlela said he had followed orders from Cele when procuring both buildings, which are owned by property mogul Roux Shabangu.

Cele, however, stood firm yesterday and launched a subtle attack on Hlela's capabilities as head of the supply chain management division.

Cele revealed how he had smelled a rat in the police's procurement department shortly after taking office in August 2009.

He told how stunned he had been when, three weeks after he was appointed as commissioner, Hlela had wanted him to sign a R3-billion public-private partnership agreement to build new police headquarters.

Cele said he had refused to sign the papers, arguing that it was "unacceptable that we (are) not taking services to the people" and were instead wanting to spend billions on police offices.

He told of how a businessmen (with the surname Moseneke) had approached him at a gym in November 2009 to inform him that this company would be undertaking renovations and the building of a gym in Wachthuis, the police headquarters in Pretoria, soon.

The Wachthuis building was on a month-to-month lease and when he had asked Hlela about the conversation with the businessman, Hlela had responded: "I forgot to tell you that we extended the lease."

This had raised his ire as Hlela had extended the lease a day before President Jacob Zuma had announced Cele's appointment.

He said it was then that he had asked the Special Investigating Unit to look at the police service's supply chain management and procurement data.

His request was the second of its kind. The Independent Complaints Directorate had made a similar request.

Cele said that he had never questioned whether the Sanlam Middestad building was the only suitable one available.

Hlela conceded on Monday that he had made certain procurement decisions about the lease deals on the assumption that Cele wanted them.

Cele continues his testimony today.