A fearless fighter

2015-10-20 06:00

PUBLIC Protector Thuli Madonsela scored a major victory this week to protect the integrity of her office.

A judgment by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on Thursday provided clarity in a raging debate about whether the public protector’s recommendations are binding.

The court dismissed SABC chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s appeal against a Western Cape High Court order that he be suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary process. This was Madonsela’s recommendation following her investigation that found Motsoeneng had faked his matric certificate and was guilty of maladministration. Madonsela has been fighting to clarify her powers so that the Office of the Public Protector is not reduced to a toothless organ, the findings of which can simply be ignored.

She joined the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) case in the SABC matter after the broadcaster and the minister of Communications disregarded her remedial action and appointed Motsoeneng permanently as COO.

Madonsela has also joined the Economic Freedom Fighters’ case in the Constitutional Court on whether President Jacob Zuma was compelled to implement the recommendations in her report on the security upgrades at his Nkandla residence.

Madonsela denied claims that she is plotting with opposition parties against the president. “To be criticised for that would be a very minimalist approach to our actions. We joined the DA on the SABC case and we are not in cahoots with the DA. We clearly just want to establish proper interpretation clarity of our powers,” she said.

Now the SCA has provided that clarity.

“The public protector cannot realise the constitutional purpose of her office if other organs of state may second-guess her findings and ignore her recommendations,” the court said.

The SCA also said no individual or body is allowed to substitute the public protector’s remedial action with a separate parallel investigation — as has been the case with the Nkandla issue.

But this is hardly the end of the matter.

Even if the Constitutional Court rules that the president should pay back a portion of the amount spent on non-security upgrades at Nkandla, as Madonsela had recommended, it is unlikely that this will be complied with.

From the time she took on the Nkandla case, Madonsela has been in running battles with the ANC and government to protect the integrity of the investigation, defend her office and ward off personal attacks.

Madonsela has been able to withstand accusations that she leaked information, has maintained her composure in confrontations with the justice committee in Parliament over her powers and her budget, and shaken off attacks from a number of people in the ANC about her motives and even her appearance.

ANC members of Parliament in the ad hoc committee on Nkandla rubbished Madonsela’s report, calling it “incoherent”, “irrational” and “illogical”. But they were not prepared to give her the opportunity to explain her findings and recommendations despite her appeals to do so. Despite her determination to carry out her constitutional mandate, many people in the ANC believe Madonsela is on a political mission to embarrass the party and the president. It is really astounding that Madonsela has survived until now and continues to do her job fearlessly. When you consider the number of people in the criminal-justice system who succumbed to political pressure and walked away from their jobs, it is remarkable that Madonsela is able to shake off the unrelenting onslaught and still fight on to protect her office.

The effect of the bullying, intimidation and political pressure is not only the constant undermining of the public protector’s office.

The message for others who are in the employ of the state, those who discover corruption and people who are independently minded, is that it is better to shut up and comply than to act with integrity.

If only there were more people like Madonsela who refuse to kowtow or go away quietly.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

To be criticised for that would be a very minimalist approach to our actions. We joined the DA on the SABC case and we are not in cahoots with the DA. We clearly just want to establish proper interpretation clarity of our powers

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