Corruption Watch asks Parliament to urgently conduct inquiry into Public Protector

2019-07-25 12:37
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Thapelo Morebudi, Gallo Images, The Sunday Times, file)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Thapelo Morebudi, Gallo Images, The Sunday Times, file)

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Corruption Watch has asked Parliament to urgently consider a request to probe Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office following the Constitutional Court's scathing judgment against her this week.

On Thursday, the non-governmental organisation wrote a letter to National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise and the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services to have Parliament expedite a current request to probe Mkhwebane.

Earlier this year, the DA asked Parliament to probe Mkhwebane's continued role in high office, which was referred to the portfolio committee in June.

"In the face of the series of court judgments, culminating in Monday's Constitutional Court decision, that reflect adversely on the Public Protector's competence, honesty and impartiality, any self-respecting person would tender her resignation.

"If she chooses not to take the most dignified and honourable exit, then Parliament must exercise its constitutionally enshrined oversight responsibility," said David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch.

Bad faith

Fin24 reported that the Constitutional Court ruled on Monday that Mkhwebane had acted in bad faith and "exceeded the bounds" of her potential indemnification under the Public Protector Act.

The apex court also ruled that the Public Protector "had put forward a number of falsehoods" in the course of litigation, including misrepresenting under oath, the economic analysis underpinning her Absa report.

Corruption Watch's letter highlighted the critical role the Office of the Public Protector played in the fight against corruption and impropriety in state affairs.

It cited the findings of a number of other courts against Mkhwebane as grounds for the probe "which have found the Public Protector to be incompetent, dishonest and biased".

Parliament had a duty to exercise its oversight function, the statement said.

Legal head Deborah Mutemwa-Tumbo said the portfolio committee was enjoined to "assess the performance and conduct of the Public Protector to ensure continued public confidence in the office", as cited by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

"The organisation expects Parliament to fulfil its constitutional duties in conducting this inquiry, and to do so expeditiously in a transparent manner that fully interrogates a pattern of conduct that calls into question whether the incumbent Public Protector is indeed fit to hold the high office that she occupies," the statement read.

Corruption Watch is the latest in an ever-increasing list of civil society organisations and political parties asking for the expedited investigation into Mkhwebane's fitness for office. 

The DA, South African Communist Party (SACP), Cope, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) and Accountability Now have all expressed concerns, News24 reported.  

Section 194 of the Constitution provides for the removal of heads of Chapter 9 institutions, such as the Public Protector and Auditor-General.

Misconduct, incapacity or incompetence

Such a person can only be removed on the grounds of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence after a finding to that effect by a committee of the National Assembly. Furthermore, the National Assembly must pass a motion for the person's removal with a two-thirds majority.

Mkhwebane had reportedly told Modise that she should "back off" in attempting to probe her fitness and wrote in a letter that she would go to court if Parliament proceeds, the Sunday Times reported this week.

Her main argument was that, while the Constitution gives grounds for the removal of the Public Protector, Parliament has not adopted any rules to indicate how that process should be governed.

Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said Modise responded by saying the process would continue.

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Read more on:    public protector  |  corruption watch  |  parliament 2019
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