A lawyer whose integrity was questioned by the highest court in the land and an experienced spook with an optometry degree are "suitably qualified" to be advisers to Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
This was the response of the department in a statement after it was reported Sisulu had appointed former National Director of Public Prosecutions Menzi Simelane and former intelligence head Mo Shaik as special advisers.
Simelane's appointment by former president Jacob Zuma was found to have been invalid by the Constitutional Court which also questioned his "conscientiousness, integrity, and credibility" in its judgment.
Sisulu also appointed him as a special adviser in 2013 when she was minister of public service and administration.
Shaik recently testified at the Zondo commission into state capture that while he was still at the State Security Agency (SSA), former minister Siyabonga Cwele ordered the agency to drop an investigation into the Guptas in 2011.
'Entitled to special advisers'
"We wish to reiterate that in terms of government rules and regulations, members of the executive authority are entitled to special advisers and the minister of human settlements, water and sanitation has exercised that prerogative by appointing Mr Mo Shaik and advocate Menzi Simelane," read the statement.
Sisulu sought approval from the minister of public service and administration for the appointments, and this was given, the statement added.
"In considering an appointment of a special adviser, qualifications, experience and skills, among others, are taken into consideration. Therefore, both appointees are suitably qualified for the positions they hold, and their appointments are regulated and prescribed for in the Public Service Act, 1994. Both appointments have been duly ratified by the minister of public service and administration as per requirements."
Shaik and Simelane's duties include providing Sisulu with advice "to enable her to execute her duties such as the development of policies to meet the service delivery needs of all South Africans, which in this case are the provision of water and decent sanitation as well as ensuring that every citizen has access to decent shelter over his or her head".
"Minister Sisulu has utmost confidence in the abilities of her two special advisers both of whom were appointed in terms of the applicable legislation and policies of the government," read the statement.
News24 has asked the department to elaborate on the appointment of Shaik and Simelane, given their controversial histories. An answer is still forthcoming and will be reported once received.
The appointments came to light after Sisulu responded to a question by DA MP Emma Louise Powell who on Tuesday said Simelane and Shaik were currently earning an estimated R1 978 533 per annum, according to notch A of a level 16 DPSA grading - the grading given only to directors-general of national government departments.
She said it could be even more, up to R2.2m, if they were on a different notch.
News24 asked the department if this was correct. A response will be added once received.
Powell said the DA was yet to understand how an optometrist - Shaik - and a former prosecutor - Simelane - were qualified to provide advice to a department whose focus is on water, sanitation and housing delivery.
"There is no doubt that gross mis-hiring has taken place - and the deck has been stacked with well-paid political cadres," she added.
"Sisulu's staffing of a political war room in lieu of a capably staffed ministry will not be allowed to continue unabated while taps are running dry across our nation."
In the original response to Powell's question, it was indicated that Simelane has an LLB and Shaik a Master's degree in optometry. The original response to Powell's question was distributed by Parliament on Thursday. It contained a list of the names of the people employed in Sisulu's department.
On Monday, an amended answer from Sisulu was distributed which did not contain the names.
Powell said: "She was caught red-handed, employing and appointing individuals with numerous shadows hanging over their names, and now that the public has been made aware of it, she has rapidly attempted to remove access to this information from the public."
News24 asked the department why the original answer was amended and did not to include the names. This will be reported once an answer is received.