When Thulas Nxesi inherited this department a year ago, his predecessor, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, had just been sacked for her role in the police leasing scandal.
The public protector and the Special Investigating Unit revealed depressing levels of graft there and the auditor general had handed the department an audit disclaimer.
Senior management was in a mess. Nxesi said: “[In seven years] there have been nine different directors general and acting directors general and five different ministers. Currently we sit with a suspended director general, a suspended acting director general and an acting director general.”
But he has made a credible start at cleaning up the mess.
First, he publicly acknowledged the problems: poor management and weak controls were fuelling corruption, 35 000 properties were unaccounted for and 3 000 poorly managed and expensive leases were draining public money.
He instituted a “turnaround strategy”, including a core team reporting to the director general?s office to address his “paradox” ? how to fix the department?s deep faults without interrupting services. Indeed, mid-year figures suggested that the expanded public works programme job creation targets were not being met while Nxesi steered his new course.
Topping Nxesi`s hit list is corruption. He publicly detailed disciplinary and criminal cases against officials and irregular leases referred to courts. The minister also bemoaned the glacial pace of justice.
To the Mail & Guardian, the turnaround team detailed various ”stabilisation” initiatives, including the “removal and transfer” of certain top managers for “underperforming” and a number of other successes.
But the minister`s much needed attention has been diverted by the high-profile Nkandla scandal. He referred the matter to the auditor general and set up (another) task team to examine the situation, but his hiding behind an apartheid era Act ? built into a long story of the state`s ducking and diving ? has unnecessarily compounded public mistrust.
Sadly, in the case of Nkandla, Nxesi appears to have chosen secrecy and political expediency over transparency.