Public protector cracks the whip

2010-11-24 18:16

Public officials may in future pay heavy penalties for failing to comply with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s requests, including having to cough up R40 000 fines from their own pockets.

Announcing the publication of Public Protector Rules in the Government Gazette at a National Press Club media briefing today, Madonsela said some government departments still ignored the findings of the public protector at the expense of distressed citizens.

This included public servants such as the legal adviser of a government department who advised his department to disregard her powers and ignore her.

Madonsela declined to reveal his identity.

But she told journalists that officials and departments who disregarded her office’s intercession on behalf of citizens wronged by the state would in future be “named and shamed” in public protector reports submitted to parliament.

The public protector rules, which were published for public comment, communicate not only the full extent of the public protector’s powers vis-a-vis government departments and officials, but also her intention to take no nonsense from those who refuse to rectify their misdeeds.

The rules specify timelines for organs of state to respond to requests for information from the public protector’s office as well as timelines for responding to her reports or findings.

The rules also define the procedures to be followed with regard to complaints lodged with the protector and procedures to be followed with regard to the investigations and resolution of complaints.

It communicates the protector’s intention to deal with government officials and departments who ignored her findings or requests.

In such cases, she said, her office would use “its full powers to exact compliance with the constitution and the law”. This would include subpoenas and warrants.

It would be interesting, Madonsela said, to see the reaction of public servants to these sanctions.

The public protector’s office, she said, currently deals with between 15 000 and 16 300 complaints against organs of state a year.

Her staff of 250 managed to resolve about 76% of these complaints in timelines between “a few hours” and a year.

The rules, she said, had been discussed with government departments and their reaction had been positive.

Madonsela praised President Jacob Zuma and the media’s support for her office.

The president, she said, remained true to the remarks he made a year ago when he appointed and tasked her with protecting South Africans against “any abuse of power by state organs or officials”.

The media, she said, not only provided the leads for some of her investigations, but also ensured that her office remedied government’s administrative injustices or failures and reconciled the people with the state.

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