It took 68 seconds for new Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to answer questions on the hot potato that is the so-called state capture report left by her predecessor.
DA MP Werner Horn was the first to pose questions to Mkhwebane on her maiden appearance before Parliament’s oversight committee on her office.
Horn didn’t waste any time and asked Mkhwebane about the report which her predecessor Thuli Madonsela chose not to publish last week, after President Jacob Zuma and Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen approached the courts to interdict the release of the report.
Horn asked whether Mkhwebane would furnish the DA with the report considering that the law states that upon completion of the report, the complainant and implicated persons should be furnished with the findings of the Public Protector.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane asked Madonsela to investigate allegations that the Gupta family had undue influence over Zuma and the state and its entities. This was way back in March.
“At this stage, we have not been placed as complainants in this matter in possession of the report. I would like to inquire as to when that would happen.”
Horn also asked about the contents of the cover letter that Madonsela sent to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete when she asked her to safeguard the report and Mkhwebane’s views on the decision of Parliament to return the report.
“I agree with honourable Horn on the issue of Section 8(3) of the Public Protector Act and I would want to indicate that the matter is before court and I wouldn’t comment on the letter written by the previous Public Protector to the National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete because that is inside the report,” Mkhwebane said.
“And the report is kept safely in the safe of the head of legal services ... I don’t have a safe in my office but the report is kept safely in Advocate Fourie’s office,” she added.
Mkhwebane would also not say why the report was returned by Mbete to the Public Protector’s office because she had not gone through the letter.
Mkhwebane said she would take up the committee’s advice that the Public Protector should approach the National Assembly’s appropriations committee for extra funding, saying that would eliminate the use of consultants.
“In fact that won’t happen going forward. No consultant will be utilised in that office, no donor fund will be requested in that office. I discussed with the management as well and they know what is the way forward as far as that is concerned,” she said.
The committee had heard that the Public Protector’s office received $500 000 from USAID to assist with specific projects.
The ANC, the EFF and National Freedom Party MPs all raised concerns about this donation, saying such a donation could compromise the independence of the office.
Mkhwebane asked MPs to support the office’s call for additional funding.
The total budget in the 2015/16 financial year was R246 million.
Committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga later told City Press that the committee would support Mkhwebane’s requests for extra funding “because they are reasonable requests and that’s what we need to capacitate that office”.
Madonsela had raised the issue of additional funding for at least the past five years but did not receive much support from the committee, especially ANC MPs in the committee.