Department of home affairs insiders believe their suspended director-general Mkuseli Apleni is being set up to take the fall for the fast-tracking of citizenship for the Gupta family in 2015.
Apleni’s original decision on the naturalisation application was that the Guptas did not meet the minimum time requirements for permanent residence.
He has claimed he was overridden by then home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba, who granted them citizenship after Apleni rejected their first application.
And yesterday, things got worse for Apleni when the majority union in the department, the Public Servants Association (PSA), said it intended to lay criminal charges against him.
A source close to the office of the immigration inspectorate said Apleni was suspended “due to not following proper protocol” when the Guptas were granted South African citizenship.
“This case was never taken to the director-general who, as the head of the department of home affairs, is guilty of not following protocol and therefore guilty of misconduct, which is sufficient grounds for suspension,” the source said yesterday.
Earlier this year, present Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize said her predecessor had not transgressed in granting the Gupta family citizenship.
Deputy general manager of the PSA Tahir Maepa said their court bid was prompted by documents leaked in the Gupta e-mails detailing the process the family was taken through for them to get South African citizenship.
The documents showed the family was given preferential treatment and were not legally entitled to get it, he said.
“The problem is that Apleni’s powers as the director-general makes it his responsibility to make sure there is compliance with the law, and not just the minister. He is the administrative head and was supposed to have declined that application, and it was not even supposed to go to the minister.”
Immigration lawyer Johan Lubbe agreed, adding that despite the fact that Gigaba overrode Apleni’s decision, as the administrative head it was both his and Gigaba’s responsibility to get the decision debated in parliament before reverting back to the applicants.
“As the operational head, he will always be the one to take the fall. The minister, in his capacity as a political head, is within his right to override the director-general’s decisions, but whatever is decided will always come back to the director-general, as we have seen in past instances.
“He remains responsible for the execution of such decisions, whether they are made by the minister or not. He must take responsibility for them and he must prove his innocence in court.”
Haniff Hoosen, DA shadow minister of home affairs, said he would write to Mkhize asking her to make public her reasons for suspending Apleni.
While the department did fail to report the issue of the Guptas’ application to parliament, it was still Gigaba’s decision and both he and Apleni should be held accountable for not following due procedure, he added.
Another possible reason there were grounds to suspend Apleni, according to Maepa, was his ongoing legal battle with the PSA to enforce a six-day working week, which the Constitutional Court ruled against earlier this year.
The 230 000-strong union served a strike notice to the department in June after talks collapsed at the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council.
“The crux of the matter is that he was abusing his power and privilege. So that is one of the reasons I believe he is being suspended.”
Neither Apleni’s lawyer, Sandile July, nor Mkhize had replied to questions sent to them about the suspension by the time of going to print. – email@example.com