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

2018-04-30 17:50
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.(Netwerk24)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.(Netwerk24)

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Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane hit out the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution's (Casac) Lawson Naidoo over an affidavit, which claimed she protected politicians during her investigation into the Vrede dairy farm scandal.

Last week, News24 sister publication City Press obtained an affidavit filed by Naidoo in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. In it, the Casac executive secretary accuses Mkhwebane of ignoring the contents of a provisional report by her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela.

Naidoo alleges this was done to shield then Free State premier Ace Magashule and Mosebenzi Zwane, who at the time was MEC for agriculture and rural development in the province, from investigation for their alleged roles in the Gupta family's looting of R250m from the Free State agriculture department.

READ: Mkhwebane defends not probing Magashule, Guptas in Vrede report

The affidavit also accuses Mkhwebane of misleading Parliament when she said the report had already been signed off when she was appointed and that she had little to do with it. Naidoo also claimed Mkhwebane failed to investigate complaints laid with her office between 2013 and 2016, some of which were allegations centred on Magashule, who now occupies the office of ANC secretary general.

The Public Protector released a statement on Monday denying "watering down" the provisional report.

"The Public Protector South Africa has always been at pains to explain to the public that the so-called provisional reports have no legal status. This explanation predates Adv Mkhwebane's tenure. The reason such documents did not enjoy any legal status was because they were essentially drafts or working documents," Mkhwebane said.

Mkhwebane disputed Naidoo's claims that she removed the remedial action that was initially prescribed by her predecessor.

Call for Mkhwebane to be fired

"There was... no need to reinvent the wheel and start a parallel investigation. As such, the remedial action taken by the Public Protector was appropriate, considering the issues investigated, the arrests and preservation orders." 

In defending herself against claims that she protected politicians, Mkhwebane said their involvement had not formed part of the investigation.

The multi-million rand Vrede dairy farm project was meant to empower black farmers but it's alleged the money was syphoned off and used to pay for a Gupta wedding in Sun City.

The family has been accused of looting the state through the use of undue influence over former president Jacob Zuma and several state owned enterprises.

The DA has said in reaction to Casac's claims that if the Public Protector did in fact alter the remedial action as recommended by Madonsela, she should lose her job.

"If true, [the allegations] constitute a serious breach of her oath of office and gross misconduct which would be grounds for dismissal," said DA spokesperson on justice Glynnis Breytenbach.

'Dubious decisions'

The former prosecutor said Naidoo's affidavit vindicated the DA's decision to have the report taken on review.

"The DA has already ensured that Adv Mkhwebane's removal be considered by Parliament, with the matter being referred to the justice committee on 18 March 2018. The ANC members blocked it then, but the process should no longer be delayed," said Breytenbach in a statement.

Breytenbach said the party would write to both the chairs of the justice committee and the House committee in Parliament to revisit the Vrede dairy farm matter urgently.

The DA said the recent decision by the High Court to set aside Mkhwebane's Bankorp-CIEX report, in which she recommended that Absa pay back R1.1bn, was a damning indictment on her fitness to hold office.

"She has shown herself as being prone to making dubious decisions such as proposing that the Reserve Bank's mandate be amended," continued Breytenbach.

"Parliament cannot afford to keep turning a blind eye to what is clearly an abuse of office by Adv Mkhwebane. It has only served to erode public trust in the office of the Public Protector," she said.

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Read more on:    public protector  |  casac  |  busisiwe mkhwebane  |  estina dairy farm

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