Howard Feldman

Mkhwebane's masterful trap

2017-06-21 11:47
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Netwerk24)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Netwerk24)

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It’s a trap! A good ole fashioned set up. And South Africa is about to walk smack into it.

It’s so smart that there was no way that I could think of this on my own. Hear me out. I was skeptical when my son suggested it at first and then I realised that the money I paid Wits to educate him might well have not gone to waste.

Try and follow the logic and tell me it’s wrong - which I really hope it is. Because being correct means that we were right about the Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, all along and that she is a Zupta. And that means trouble. Big trouble.

I heard an interview with her earlier this week. Mkhwebane was being challenged on her Reserve Bank and Absa report and quite comfortably suggested that the courts should be the arbiter as whether she had overreached or not. Her comments and tone struck me as being somewhat taunting and gave the impression that she almost wanted the case to be decided by the judiciary. It makes no sense, I thought.

But then it did.

These are the facts. The Public Protector has found the following:

  • that the Reserve Bank should end inflation targeting;
  • that the bank’s primary objective should be to promote balanced and sustainable economic
  • that the Constitution should be amended to reflect this.

According to the Reserve Bank, the amendment would mean that it is effectively stripped of its key competency to protect the value of the currency and the well understood role that it plays in securing price stability. The bank believes that the Public Protector has overreached and that her ruling falls outside her office’s powers.

And strangely she doesn’t seem to bothered by this allegation. Which is odd. Right?

So here is the theory: Maybe she wants the courts to rule against her. Because if she is told that she cannot interfere with state bodies like the Reserve Bank, well maybe she would be wasting her time (and our money) in investigating other state bodies and the corruption that might exist within the organisations.

And she went for the Reserve Bank. One of the few government organisations that to date have not been taken over by the Guptas (not for lack of trying). She seems to want a ruling that will give her the excuse and legitimacy to not investigate areas that would bring Zuma himself under the spotlight.

Her recommendations hit the currency hard and have made investors nervous. The rating agencies who have until now been supportive and impressed by the strength and independence of the Reserve Bank are now more concerned than ever.

Mkhwebane seems to have deliberately wedged herself into the arena of economic discourse. Which is perplexing in and of itself. Because she either has no qualifications or experience in this field and therefore should have left it the hell alone, or she understood full well that her words would impact on the currency and on investor confidence. 

The Public Protector is no fool. She had to have known it would happen. And she would have been anxious to mess with the currency without the support of … someone. Someone who has shown us in the past that he worried naught about the value of the currency or the impact of a downgrade. Someone who had the confidence to fire a competent and respected finance minister in favour of one who is controversial to say the least.

Which means there is something bigger at play. And that is as follows:

If Mkhwebane wins the case then she will have achieved what Zuma has tried for years. And that is the capture of the Reserve Bank.  

If she “loses” then she successfully limits the power of the Public Protector. This is vital for Zuma’s case where he is determined to oppose the finding of the previous Public Protector and to limit her powers.

No matter how you view it, Zuma wins and South Africa loses. The trap is set and we are about to walk right into it. 

- Howard Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

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Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  public protector  |  absa
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