Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has said she “will decide” if she will appear before Parliament’s ad hoc committee looking into the SABC and she didn’t understand why they were still sitting, given that there was only one board member remaining.
This was revealed by DA MP Phumzile van Damme on Tuesday.
Mkhwebane, who was one of about 30 witnesses requested to appear for public hearings, also reportedly said it was her prerogative to decide if she should come to Parliament, and that three staff members could speak on her behalf, provided it was in camera.
EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said Mkhwebane shouldn’t have a choice, as Parliament was her boss, “finish and klaar”.
“We must take exception with how the new Public Protector is addressing us,” Ndlozi told the committee.
“A lot of people we hire here in Parliament, but they don’t want us to hold them accountable. They think someone else outside of Parliament may be the one.
“The new Public Protector must be told that this is the institution that Constitutionally she reports to.”
Her insistence that the committee’s work was irrelevant, due to the fact that only one board member remained, was “worrying”, he said.
“That’s very disrespectful. I’m worried about a Public Protector who speaks like that. Which public is she protecting? It’s in the interest of the public that she comes to Parliament.”
Van Damme said she was “very worried” about Mkhwebane’s response, and said the committee should oppose her request to have her staff members testify behind closed doors.
She said former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s 2014 report into the SABC, When Governance and Ethics Fail, was a public document, and Mkhwebane should therefore defend it publicly.
IFP chief whip Narend Singh agreed, saying the inquiry was a Parliamentary process, and the committee should not allow anyone to have in camera interviews.
“This committee has been set up by Parliament, and all evidence presented before us must be done publicly.”
ANC MP Makhosi Khoza agreed Parliament’s work should be transparent, but certain individuals should be given an ear to find a way to resolve their concerns.
The committee was due to begin its witness interviews on Tuesday, but it was postponed by a week due to a last-minute court application filed by SABC board chairperson Mbulaheni Maguvhe – the sole remaining board member – on Sunday to have the inquiry stalled.
Maguvhe cited alleged “bias and prejudice” against him from opposition MPs Van Damme, EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu and the IFP’s Liesl van der Merwe.
Twenty-four witnesses, meanwhile, have been successfully contacted and will appear before the committee once the court case has been concluded. Another six, including Madonsela, either declined or were not available to appear due to travel commitments.
Committee chairperson Vincent Smith said he was confident that Parliament would win the court case against Maguvhe, and would be “ready to roll” afterwards. The interdict would be argued in the Western Cape High Court on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance will go to court to oppose the interdict against members of the ad hoc committee.
“The interdict ... is a last-ditch attempt to intimidate members of Parliament and to protect the SABC from scrutiny. It will not succeed,” DA federal executive chairperson James Selfe said.
“In essence the interdict seeks to delay and frustrate the important work of the National Assembly to hold to account our public broadcaster which has in the past few months acted as a law unto itself.”
He described the application as a “costly and unnecessary exercise” by one man who is seeking to cling to power for his own sake.
The matter will be argued in court on Friday.
Maguvhe cited alleged “bias and prejudice” against him from Van Damme, EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu and the IFP’s Liesl van der Merwe.
The committee has until December 15 to compile a report and present it before the National Assembly.
Twenty-four witnesses have been successfully contacted and will appear before Parliament’s ad hoc committee looking into the SABC once the court case has been concluded.
Another six, including former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, declined for a number of reasons including travel commitments around the time scheduled for the hearings.
Chairperson Vincent Smith said they had attempted to contact Madonsela three times after she initially declined, but have not heard back from her yet due to her travels.
The other five are former SABC employees and board members: former group chief executive Jimi Matthews; former board members Thembinkosi Bonakele and Nomvuyo Mhlakaza; former employee Verona Durwakhah; and former audit executive Lorraine Francois.
Matthews said he would also be travelling during the hearing dates.
Bonakele and Mhlakaza said they would add little to the process as they are no longer board members.
Durwakhah is currently involved in a labour dispute with the broadcaster at the Labour Court. Francois said her work requires 100% confidentiality.
Twenty-four other witnesses were successfully contacted by Parliament’s evidence leader, and will appear before the committee. Four members of the “SABC 8” will appear as one group.