'Mkhwebane hellbent on protecting ANC corruption' - DA fires back at PP on Vrede report review

The DA has fired back at Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane after she said in court papers that the party's challenge of her report on the Estina dairy farm project was "steeped in politics".

The DA announced in February that it would officially take Mkhwebane's report on review for failing to include then Free State premier Ace Magashule and then agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane in the probe.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane at the time labelled the report a "whitewash".

READ: Public Protector lashes out at Casac claims that Vrede dairy farm report was 'watered down'

In an answering affidavit filed on Friday, Mkhwebane hit back at the DA's arguments, claiming its review was based on political reasons, and should thus be looked at "in that context".

"This application is steeped in politics," Mkhwebane's first paragraph reads.

"The DA, the main opposition party in the National Assembly, has never supported my appointment as Public Protector and has been critical of me and my work ever since my appointment with a view to [chip] away at the confidence that the public and the National Assembly bestowed on me."

'Court can't interfere'

She said the process to appoint her was a public and transparent one and met all statutory requirements.

"I am a not a political deployee. By this application the DA believes it has finally found an opportunity to get rid of me and simultaneously (not for the first time) table a motion in the National Assembly for a probe into my fitness for this office."

Mkhwebane dismissed the DA's core argument asking for the court to set the report aside.

"The Constitutional Court has ruled that it is impermissible for a court to interfere with the means adopted by a functionary simply because the court does not like the functionary's approach."

She also said the DA had falsely relied on the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act to take her report on review as the courts had previously found that the act did not apply to her office's work.

As Public Protector, she also had the discretion to decide which complaints and conduct she would investigate and an "opt-out" option for cases that fall within her jurisdiction.

'Embarrassing cop out'

In any case, the original complaint on the Estina matter did not mention any politicians specifically, was conducted during the time of her predecessor Thuli Madonsela and completed before she took office, she said.

She also had "no sufficient resources available" to reopen the probe during the 2016/17 financial year "because the expenditure on the budget had been exceeded".

Maimane on Monday slammed Mkhwebane's answering affidavit as an "embarrassing cop out".

"It appears from this 79-page affidavit that she is hellbent on protecting ANC corruption, showing she is unfit to hold the Office of the Public Protector."

He also took issue with Mkhwebane citing her office's budget constraints, the limits of her mandate and the role of former Public Protector Madonsela as "excuses".

"It is highly suspicious that after an almost four-year investigation into the Vrede dairy project, advocate Mkhwebane found only that the Free State department of agriculture contravened the prescripts of the Public Finance Management Act.

"There is no effort shown to probe the true corruption at the heart of the Vrede scam and to hold those responsible to account," he claimed.

Magashule, Zwane off the hook?

Mkhwebane, however, challenged that point too, saying the investigation was not a four-year process, but was completed in 2015 under her predecessor. She said she closed it upon taking office.

Maimane said Magashule and Zwane had gotten off "unscathed" in what was a scheme that was allegedly conceived, planned and executed through the premier's office, "along with the Guptas".

The intended beneficiaries of the Vrede dairy farm project deserve nothing less than full political accountability and swift criminal prosecutions, he said.

"That is why the DA has taken the report on legal review, and the matter is set to be heard on 23 and 24 October 2018. We have full confidence in the courts to come to a finding that brings justice to the people of Vrede."

Mkhwebane told Parliament in April that her office would open a new case file to probe the role of politicians and individuals in the Estina dairy farm matter.

This new investigation would include Magashule and Zwane, she confirmed.

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