Robert McBride. Picture: THE TIMES/ALON SKUY
Robert McBride. Picture: THE TIMES/ALON SKUY

Police minister Bheki Cele has until close of business on Monday to provide parliament’s portfolio committee on police detailed reasons as to why he decided not to renew Robert McBride’s contract as executive director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

In January, Cele wrote to McBride informing him that his contract would not be renewed or extended when it expires at the end of February. McBride then filed an urgent application, asking the High Court in Pretoria to declare Cele’s decision to not renew his contract as “unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid”.

The court granted an interim order that stated the parties in the matter agreed that Cele’s decision was preliminary and that it must still be confirmed or rejected by the portfolio committee.

“It is recorded that the second respondent [the portfolio committee] intends to take a decision regarding the renewal of [McBride’s] appointment on or before February 28,” the order reads. 

The high court matter is set down for February 26. The portfolio committee was ordered to submit an affidavit on its progress on the matter by February 22.

On Thursday, the committee met to chart the way forward.  Francois Beukman, committee chair, said the proposed deadline for Cele to respond is on Monday, February 18, at 5pm. His  submission will then be forwarded to McBride who will have until Wednesday to respond.

Beukman said the committee will deliberate after that and consider whether to call in all the relevant stakeholders.

DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard described Cele’s actions as “arrogant ... He had no right to make the decision. I have not seen something so arrogant for some time.” 

Civil society organisations Corruption Watch and the Helen Suzman Foundation applied to be admitted as friends of the court (amicus curiae) in the matter. The foundation argues that granting the decision-making power to renew a term of office of the executive director of Ipid to a political actor, including members of the executive or parliamentary portfolio committees, unlawfully infringes on the independence of the organisation.

Corruption Watch said it supports the relief sought by McBride.  “Our concern is to protect the independence and integrity of Ipid. In the event of conduct by the minister and the portfolio committee that falls short of full legal compliance, the public will rightly infer a political interest in the identity of the head of Ipid.  Given the extent of police corruption this is of the gravest concern and will be resisted,” said David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch.

The independence of the Ipid head has been a hot political issue in recent years. In 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that the police minister had no authority to dismiss the Ipid head without parliament instituting the necessary processes. This was after former police minister Nathi Nhleko moved to suspend McBride.

He returned to the helm of Ipid in 2016, after a bitter turf war with Nhleko and former acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane.

The Constitutional Court said in its ruling that Ipid is an independent body established in terms of the constitution. It noted that Section 4(1) of the Ipid Act required it to function independently of the SA Police Service. 

The Constitutional Court said in its ruling, “Given the nature, scope and importance of the role played by police in preventing, combating and investigating crime, Ipid’s oversight role is of cardinal importance.” 

phakathib@businesslive.co.za