Clarity needed on Public Protector’s powers

2014-09-13 13:54

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Clarity is needed on the extent of the powers of the Public Protector’s office, according to a constitutional law expert.

The parameters of the chapter 9 institution’s powers had not yet been decided by a court and were open to interpretation, Professor Pierre de Vos was reported in The Saturday Star as saying.

He was commenting on President Jacob Zuma’s letter written in response to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s reminder that the president had failed to heed her findings on security upgrades to his home in Nkandla.

In the letter, Zuma said he “must respectfully disagree” with Madonsela’s view that her reports and recommendations can only be reviewed by a court of law, and not by ministers or the Cabinet.

“The role of the Public Protector is akin to that of an ombudsman and quite distinct from that of the judge,” Zuma said in the letter, released to the media by his office.

In the report, De Vos said he believed Zuma and his lawyers were mistaken in this regard.

“We don’t know exactly how far it [the Public Protector’s power] stretches,” he was quoted as saying.

“We ... know the Constitution itself says the Public Protector has the power to take remedial action, but that has not been interpreted.”

Addressing a stakeholder consultative dialogue at the City of Cape Town’s chambers on Thursday, Madonsela said the “last word” belonged to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which stated in a recent ruling that she was more than an ombudsman.

She reportedly told Independent Newspapers, just before Zuma’s letter was made public, that the courts would need to settle the matter.

“That’s the beauty of constitutional democracy,” she was quoted as saying.

Parliament this month established an ad hoc committee to consider the findings of various investigations into the R246 million Nkandla project, including that of the Special Investigating Unit and the Public Protector.

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