THE first day of the Bheki Cele inquiry laid bare major holes in the state’s star witness’s testimony yesterday, revealing how the controversial R1.67-billion police headquarters deal was fast-tracked on assumption rather than instructions.
General Hamilton Hlela, a former police procurement head and deputy national police commissioner, was a crucial part of public protector Thuli Madonsela’s reports into the lease deals that eventually led to President Jacob Zuma suspending Cele in October and establishing a board of inquiry.
Yesterday, however, Hlela faltered while testifying before inquiry chairman Judge Jake Moloi, conceding that he did not reveal all crucial details to Madonsela during her lengthy probe.
It was under examination by Cele’s legal representative, Advocate Vincent Maleka SC, that Hlela exposed himself during the inquiry convened at the Tshwane Council Chambers in Pretoria.
In what could be the first victory for Cele, Hlela revealed how he made certain procurement decisions regarding the lease deals involving the Middestad building in Pretoria and the Transnet building in Durban, on an assumption that Cele wanted those specific buildings.
Not once, according to Hlela’s testimony yesterday, did Cele specifically mention the Middestad building as the preferred building to house the police top brass, nor did he instruct him to pursue a negotiated form of procurement which led to the buildings being leased at inflated rates.
Cele only told Hlela of a building in central Pretoria where two floors could be leased.
Hlela claimed he had not misled Madonsela, but that he merely did not tell her about certain explicit facts.
During a gruelling few hours under Maleka’s examination, Hlela – who resigned from the police in 2010 after allegedly being forced to do so by Cele – shed some light on what possibly led to the controversial deals being signed with property mogul Roux Shabangu.
Maleka ripped into Hlela’s statement made to the state team, headed by Advocate Viwe Notshe, and his statements to Madonsela.
Hlela had told Madonsela that Cele identified the Middestad buildings, introduced him to Shabangu and instructed him to fast-track the procurement of the buildings.
Some of the admissions Hlela made yesterday include how:
ýCele never gave him Shabangu’s name;
ýCele never authorised a meeting between him and Shabangu;
ýHe communicated and made certain concessions with Shabangu and never forwarded such communication to Cele;
ýHe never disclosed to Public Works that he and other police officials met Shabangu, that they had received a presentation from him, and that an earlier needs analysis was adapted after this meeting; and
ýNever communicated to Cele how he had agreed on a negotiated settlement with Shabangu instead of following a shortened tender process.
Hlela, who at the beginning of the proceedings said he did not support any contention that Cele was guilty of corruption, testified how the police had conducted a needs analysis before Cele took office in 2004/05 and that a public- private partnership project had already been registered with the Treasury.
He said when he took Cele to where a new police building could be built, Cele told him he would “much rather build police stations than cushy offices”.
Hlela said Cele then instructed him to look for a new building, which would be available for the 2010 World Cup to house the police’s communications unit before June that year.
During a meeting with Shabangu in May 2010, Hlela said it had become clear that the building would not be ready for the communications unit to move in.
He nevertheless fast-tracked an agreement to acquire the building.
“The urgency was that General Cele wanted the two floors for the communications unit … it was because General Cele was persistent that he wanted the two floors,” responded Hlela to a question on why he still went ahead with the deal when it became clear that the urgency had diminished.
Hlela said that while the procurement regulations required him to test the markets first to assess building prices, he did flout such procedures as Cele had “pointed” that he wanted the building.
Asked why he did not object to Cele’s demands, Hlela said: “I couldn’t. I didn’t. I did not because he [Cele] wanted the building.”
Hlela continues his testimony today.