The National Assembly on Thursday evening approved Police Minister Bheki Cele’s nominee, Jennifer Ntlatseng, as the new executive director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
While this gives Cele the green light to appoint Ntlatseng, it might well be the last time an IPID head gets appointed by ministerial diktat as all parties expressed their support for amending the legislation to strengthen Parliament’s role in the appointment, versus that of the minister.
Cele also came under severe criticism, particularly for his failure to comply with the IPID Act, including from parties who supported the nomination.
Two weeks ago, the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Police resolved to confirm Ntlatseng.
Cele informed Parliament of her nomination at the end of June, well after the legally prescribed deadline of 28 February 2020, a year after Robert McBride’s term ended controversially.
Section 6(5) of the IPID Act states the minister “must” fill the vacancy “within a reasonable time, not exceeding a year”.
But by 1 March 2020, Cele had not nominated a candidate. On two occasions, the committee granted him an extension. However, a legal opinion, obtained after the fact, stated Parliament did not have this right.
He was, therefore, in contravention of the law for about four months.
While introducing the committee’s report recommending Ntlatseng’s appointment, committee chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson said: “We value the independence of IPID”.
She added the committee unanimously supported amending the IPID Act to strengthen its independence. “We want to make sure Parliament has the last say in oversight of the executive”.
Joemat-Pettersson said Cele would provide an “extensive report” for the reasons he failed to nominate the candidate within the deadline, but added she was satisfied the committee was kept suitably informed.
She added it was about time a woman would keep watch over the police.
DA MP Andrew Whitfield said: “Since he finally became free of that pesky IPID bloodhound Robert McBride, who was sniffing around in all the right places, Minister Cele repeatedly promised to nominate an executive director of IPID.
“He refused to review the nomination process so that Parliament could shine a light on a process being conducted by the executive in a dark corner behind closed doors.”
Referring to Cele’s statement the previous day to the National Assembly that the law allowed him to nominate the head and he had followed the law, Whitfield said Cele could not pick and choose when to follow the law.
He added despite the legal questions about the process, the committee “went ahead and rubber stamped the minister’s nominee”.
“The majority of the police committee decided to put its blind faith in Minister Cele, putting the cart before the horse and the ANC before the Constitution,” Whitfield said.
“How can the public, the police or this Parliament have any faith in a process shrouded in secrecy, led by a former police commissioner and minister to whom the police report?”
He added Cele had succeeded, and Parliament had failed.
EFF MP Thembi Msane said: “IPID has been left rudderless for almost 18 months and during that period we have seen an escalation of cases of police brutality across the country.
“We all know the minister of police is a former commissioner of police and he may be uneasy with having a stronger IPID that is able to hold the police to account”.
However, she added, the EFF supported Nlatseng’s appointment.
“Under her, we expect a more independent IPID, focused only on ensuring that the police uphold the law”.
IFP MP Zandile Majozi welcomed “the long-awaited appointment”, but also expressed concern with the process followed, particularly the only information the committee could rely on was provided by Cele.
FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald raised a similar concern, namely the committee were not allowed to interview her.
“How do I know that she is the best candidate?” he asked.
As Groenewald did in the committee, he pointed out other candidates were turned away due to a lack of investigative experience, but Ntlatseng also did not have investigative experience.
He also expressed concern about a gap in her CV, which states she worked for the Gauteng Department of Community Safety until April 2017.
“It appears that she might be manipulated by the minister of police”.
After the FF Plus asked for a division, voting was delayed due to connectivity issues.