Public Protector’s authority hanging in balance

2015-04-24 00:00

CAPE TOWN — South Africa’s democracy needs a verdict that will determine the authority of the Public Protector, said Judge Ashton Schippers.

Schippers yesterday ruled the SABC’s chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng be suspended for 60 days.

This ruling can yet have implications in the Nkandla debacle, on which the Public Protector (PP), Advocate Thuli Madonsela’s report states President Jacob Zuma should pay back a portion of the R246 million of the taxpayers’ money that was used to improve his private estate.

Schippers yesterday found the remediating steps recommended by the PP not binding, but added state institutions may not ignore the steps without rational grounds, as determined by a court.

Madonsela differed from Schippers and insisted remediating steps listed by her office are binding. She applied for leave to appeal, but Schippers turned down her application, because appeals can only be made against a court order.

He however said the PP should make a submission to the appeal court when Motsoeneng’s case is heard.

Schippers yesterday suspended Motsoeneng because there is prima facie evidence against him, as found by the PP.

Motsoeneng will however remain the COO of the public broadcaster during the long appeal process, which will mean further trampling on the PP’s findings, which had been ignored by both the SAUK board and the communications minister Faith Muthambi.

Schippers said such a trampling would cause irreparable harm to the public interest. He said the lack of clarity whether the PP’s findings are binding or not, has a significant impact on government institutions as well the public.

He said the public looked to the PP for protection against the abuse of public authority and if the impression was created that reporting such abuse has no material consequences, it would undermine the office of the PP fundamentally and irrevocably.

“A ruling on this issue by the appeal court is therefore essential,” Schippers said.

During a talk at the KKNK Arts Festival in Oudtshoorn earlier this month, Madonsela said she is waiting for this decision.

PP spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said they cannot comment before studying Schippers ruling, but the PP’s office respects his authority to take decisions as a member of the judiciary.”

James Selfe, chairperson of the DA’s federal council, said Schippers’ ruling also impacts on the Nkandla scandal.

He said the verdict means Madonsela finding that Zuma must pay back a portion of the millions spent on Nkandla cannot just be ignored. “President Zuma cannot delay any longer and must meet the PP’s remediating steps,” he said.

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