Pravin Gordhan is being treated as though he is above the law.
This was the word from the Economic Freedom Fighters after news broke that President Cyril Ramaphosa had won his court case against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on Thursday.
Mkhwebane had ordered Ramaphosa to discipline Public Enterprise Minister Gordhan for “unlawfully and improperly” authorising the early retirement of former South African Revenue Service deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.
But Judge Letty Molopa-Sethosa found that Ramaphosa had acted reasonably in not immediately disciplining him.
“It is mind-boggling why, in this matter, the Public Protector did not even consent to at least … have the remedial action stayed, pending finalisation of the review application,” Molopa-Sethosa said while delivering her ruling.
The spokesperson for the Economic Freedom Fighters, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, said Gordhan was treated as being above the law.
He said the EFF was worried that the Public Protector’s office was being stripped of its “bite” and it was becoming too easy for remedial action ordered by the Public Protector to be suspended.
Mkhwebane in May issued the report that found Gordhan erred in approving Pillay’s early retirement with full benefits in 2010. Gordhan was finance minister at the time.
After early retirement was granted, the revenue service reappointed Pillay on a fixed-term contract. The agency paid R1.2 million in penalties for accessing the pension early.
Mkhwebane, in her report, instructed Ramaphosa to take “appropriate disciplinary action” against Gordhan.
Gordhan took her report on review after saying that the Public Protector’s findings were “totally wrong both in fact and in law”.
Last week Mkhwebane suffered her fourth major defeat in the country’s courts when Judge Sulet Potterill – who was castigated by EFF leader Julius Malema last week because she was white – granted an interim interdict to Gordhan in the Pretoria High Court.
Advocate Hamilton Maenetje, for Ramaphosa, asked the court to rule either that the president had complied with the remedial action ordered by Mkhwebane or that the remedial action be put on hold pending the outcome of Gordhan’s review application.
Ramaphosa also said in court papers he couldn’t know what constituted “appropriate” disciplinary action until the outcome of the judicial review. He noted there were several options available to him, including a reprimand, a fine or even sacking Gordhan from Cabinet.
Advocate Dali Mpofu, for Mkhwebane, gave a number of reasons for opposing the president’s urgent application to halt disciplinary actions against Gordhan pending the outcome of the judicial review.
These included the argument that the review proceedings could last years, that Ramaphosa allegedly was an “accomplice” to insults against the Public Protector by Gordhan, that the application should have been lodged by Gordhan and not Ramaphosa, and that deferment would weaken the office of the Public Protector.
Mpofu also warned of a “bloodbath on our democracy” if the president failed to implement or delayed implementing remedial action.
The Public Protector report, which was released earlier this month, instructed Ramaphosa to initiate disciplinary hearings against Gordhan within 30 days of the release of the report.
Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office has been a subject of debate and she has faced numerous calls to vacate her office after losing four cases.
The EFF supported Mkhwebane in court, as they did in Gordhan’s application to suspend remedial action against him related to the so-called rogue unit report.
Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said they welcomed today’s court ruling that the president complied with the Public Protector’s remedial action on Gordhan and it would provide “certainty” on the way forward