Robert McBride has lashed out at police minister Bheki Cele, saying allegations that he is not a fit and proper person to head up the police watchdog are “nothing but a feeble attempt” to prop up a negative narrative about him. 

The tension between McBride and Cele reached boiling point when the minister informed McBride that he would not renew his term as head of police watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

McBride has not shied away from investigating top police officers when allegations of impropriety emerged, including former police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane.

McBride took Cele’s decision to court and succeeded in placing the issue of whether he should be reappointed firmly in the hands of the parliamentary portfolio committee on police. This was because the appointment of the Ipid head goes through parliament and is not unilaterally done by the minister.

Cele’s original letter to McBride in which he is informed about the nonrenewal of his contract, does not detail the reasons for his decision.

However, in a letter a letter dated February 18, which was sent to the committee’s chair, Francois Beukman, Cele says it would be “irrational” to re-appoint McBride, as there was prima facie evidence of misconduct that indicated he was not fit and proper to hold the position.

Cele said McBride had no right to a renewal of his contract owing to the fact that the ongoing investigation of, and allegations against, McBride undermined the perception of his independence and honesty.

The misconduct Cele refers to is derived from a complaint to the public protector, in which allegations of misconduct, corruption, irregular recruitment, abuse of power and the purging of staff are made.

Cele said that as far as he was able to determine, the public protector was still investigating the allegations. He said that McBride may be able to refute the claims made against him, but that the “fact remains” that the public protector was investigating McBride.

“These allegations mean there is a cloud of uncertainty and impropriety around Mr McBride. That in turn, undermines Ipid as a whole and adversely affects its independence and effectiveness,” Cele said.

The other allegation of misconduct related to a report compiled by one of Ipid’s former investigators, Cedrick Nkabinde, in which it was alleged that McBride allowed private investigator Paul O’Sullivan to conduct Ipid investigations and that he divulged official and confidential information to O’Sullivan, and leaked it to the media.

He also said the committee should check whether McBride had a valid security clearance.

McBride said in a media statement on Wednesday that “these allegations are nothing but a feeble attempt to prop up a false narrative that I have committed misconduct or that I somehow have a cloud over my head, merely because someone has made allegations”. 

He said the “discredited” allegations first emerged after Ipid started an investigation into allegations of corruption against Phahlane.

He said the allegations Cele referred to, which were under investigation by the public protector, were reported anonymously to the Public Service Commission (PSC), and an investigation found them to be “unsubstantiated”. The matter was then closed, McBride said. 

McBride said Nkabinde only made “unfounded” allegations after he was removed from a task team, and added that he was found to be “dishonest and unreliable” by a magistrate in the commercial crimes court. McBride said Nkabinde withdrew his complaints in September 2018.

“These complaints are discredited and malicious, and an objective person should have the insight to sift fact from fiction and malice,” McBride said.

The portfolio committee has until February 28, when McBride's term expires, to make a decision on whether or not his appointment will be renewed.