Churches threaten to act against Mkhwebane over state capture inquiry

Johannesburg – The South African Council of Churches has threatened to act against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane if she fails to explain her call for the terms of reference for the state capture inquiry to be expanded beyond the remedial action in the State of Capture report. 

In a letter dated January 15, SACC secretary general Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana has demanded that Mkhwebane clarifies the "legal status" of her statement.

"While we would wish to keep an open mind about the intentions of the Office of the Public Protector, we do seek your clarity so as to consider if we may need to act in protection of the pubic interests in regard to the urgent matter of State Capture," Mpumlwana states in the letter.

Mkhwebane has faced harsh criticism for calling on President Jacob Zuma to not limit the terms of reference to the issues investigated by her predecessor Thuli Madonsela in her 2016 State of Capture report. 

Zuma finally bowed to growing political and public pressure to establish the commission, in line with Madonsela's recommendation. He announced last week that Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo will head the commission, as recommended by the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. 

According to Mandosela's report released in 2016, the judicial commission of inquiry must investigate the undue influence by Zuma's friends, the Gupta family, on the state. This includes in the hiring of Cabinet ministers and tenders from state-owned entities.  

But seven days since the announcement, Zuma is yet to make public the terms of reference for the commission.

'Unburdening Panel'

Mkhwebane on Wednesday welcomed Zuma's appointment of a commission of inquiry and offered her services to help develop its terms of reference.

"In order to ensure that no stone is left unturned in so far as the allegations of state capture are concerned, and in order to avoid any further allegations of state capture being lodged with the Office of the Public Protector, the Public Protector calls upon the President of RSA to ensure that the terms of reference (ToR) for the commission of inquiry are not limited to the issues investigated or identified in the State of Capture report," reads Mkhwebane's statement.

The SACC, itself conducted a probe into state capture, called the "Unburdening Panel", and released a report on the process in May 2017.

The church body said that it would be better for Mkhwebane to help establish the terms of reference, and that it was worried about her "understanding" of the matter.

"In these circumstances it makes sense for the President to be assisted, exactly in the spirit of the doctrine of conflict of interest. As Public Protector and monitor of the remedial action, you may well be competent Officer to assist with the terms of reference that are in keeping with the purpose of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry as proposed by the Public Protector’s Report.

"But Ma'am, we would worry if your understanding is that the terms of reference could be expanded to fit whatever might yet come, as your public statement suggested," Mpumlwana writes. 

He said the SACC would also write to Judge Zondo, as the chair of the commission, to "solicit his understanding of the status of the Public Protector's recommendations on the terms of reference".

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