President Cyril Ramaphosa has made a last-ditch attempt to persuade Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane that he was neither beholden to, nor captured by, the private interests of those who pumped millions of rands into his ANC election campaign.
His camp is already anticipating an adverse finding and is discussing a possible court review.
Ramaphosa has stuck to his guns, insisting that the information about who contributed money to his 2017 campaign had been deliberately kept away from him as a matter of principle, and that it was an honest mistake when he told Parliament that the R500 000 donation to the lobby group by former Bosasa chief Gavin Watson was for a business deal with his son, Andile.
“It is clear that she is going to make an adverse finding, so we have advised the president on the review process, including that the implementation of the remedial action would also have to be interdicted pending the outcome of the review,” say those in Ramaphosa’s inner circle.
However, there is also a risk that if Ramaphosa went for the review option, Mkhwebane would have to give the court all documents that the office relied on in its investigation – among them sensitive information about his campaign funders – which would then become part of the public record.
In her preliminary report, completed at the end of last month, Mkhwebane said she found Ramaphosa’s initial explanation inadequate, adding that she would probably, in the absence of more compelling reasons, make a final adverse finding.
On Thursday, Ramaphosa filed his response to Mkhwebane.
It incorporated confirmatory affidavits from his CR17 election campaign team, including Marion Sparg, Bejani Chauke and James Motlatsi.
Although Watson had been expected to answer Ramaphosa’s list of questions by Tuesday to enable him to submit a comprehensive response, he had failed to comply, and Mkhwebane’s office told City Press that, for the sake of fairness, it would press for Watson to fulfil his role “by hook or by crook”, or at least provide an explanation since he was “not under investigation”.
Ramaphosa’s office expressed dissatisfaction with Watson’s conduct, saying the way in which he chose to make his donation was central to the investigation and so it was imperative his answers be factored into the final decision.
“Failure to allow the president the opportunity to receive the answers to his questions would constitute a grave injustice,” said presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko.
In the event that Watson’s answers would require additional input on what Ramaphosa had already filed, he would be allowed to make further supplementary submissions, and all of these would be incorporated in the final report that was already a work in progress.
Diko said Ramaphosa had given a comprehensive response and “trusts that the Public Protector will apply her mind carefully”.
“The president, however, like anyone else who is aggrieved by a finding by the Public Protector, has the right to take such a matter on review should he feel that a court may come to a different conclusion. Such a review is provided for in our law and does not indicate any sinister action,” she said.
Ramaphosa has made it clear that he supports the work of the Public Protector and believes she should be allowed to do her work without any fear or favour.
Ramaphosa’s submission is the third batch of documents dispatched to Mkhwebane, including the initial statement and a further supplementary statement filed after Mkhwebane questioned the veracity of Ramaphosa’s claim that he was unaware of who funded his campaign – despite attending some of the fundraising events where the potential funders would have been present.
Those close to the process said that Ramaphosa mostly repeated what he had previously told Mkhwebane, although he also questioned whether the office of the Public Protector had jurisdiction to look into suspicions of money laundering, as initially alleged by the complainant, DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
Last week, Mkhwebane’s office agreed that its jurisdiction was limited, but said it believed that, within the context of the allegations of an improper relationship between Ramaphosa’s family and Bosasa – which made a fortune through government business – she was within her rights to follow the money trail.
This would include inspecting the necessary financial records, such as bank statements, as well as records of all communication between the affected parties.
Any suspicions of improper conduct would then be referred to relevant authorities for consideration.
‘I KNOW A LOT’
Mkhwebane told City Press that the campaign to remove her from office was meant to distract her from the ongoing investigations because “I know a lot”.
Last week, ANC MP Mathole Motshekga, a former chairperson of the justice committee, which has again been asked to consider holding an inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office, told City Press that the new committee would objectively consider the request by the DA: “We will look at the merits and demerits of the matter. The Public Protector is an important office and the integrity of the incumbent is crucial.”
Mkhwebane said that, in the common course of her investigations, the office would come across information that was potentially embarrassing to some of the powerful people involved, which might not even form part of the scope of her work.
She said the calls for Parliament to look into her fitness to hold office were intended to create doubt in the public mind that she could be trusted, which also meant that her investigative reports would be treated with suspicion.
She said the “attacks” on her office had gone as far as security threats, including against her staff.
However, said Mkhwebane, she was ready to fight back and intended to complete her seven-year term, which started in 2016: “I am going nowhere. I will only leave this office in 2023 when my successor takes over.”
She said another issue her critics had caused confusion over was their ignoring the fact that the probe into Ramaphosa was focused on his behaviour as the then deputy president, and therefore a member of the executive.
Investigations under the Executive Members’ Ethics Act, which the office was obligated to pursue, would not apply to people outside of the executive, including MPs and politicians in general, she said.
In the case of Ramaphosa, questions would be raised about whether the donations to his campaign could be deemed a benefit to him as a member of the executive and, if so, whether he was expected to make a declaration in Parliament.
According to the rules, gifts from R350 upwards and business interests ought to be declared.
PARLIAMENT DEAL ON MKHWEBANE
City Press has learnt that the DA was asked to withdraw its motion in Parliament to investigate Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office by ANC caucus members who support Ramaphosa.
The ANC would then lodge a similar motion, which would save the party from the embarrassment that it was seen to be supporting a DA motion.
However, the DA rejected the proposal on the grounds that “there is nothing in it for us”.
Questions sent to ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe on Friday went unanswered, but the party said in a later statement that it “sends a strong message to all South Africans that we are all equal before the law and that the office of the Public Protector, as a chapter 9 institution, must be respected”.
Others in the Ramaphosa camp distanced him from the lobby against Mkhwebane, saying the president would be conflicted if he were to support such a call.
City Press has also learnt that, on Wednesday, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu had suggested that Mkhwebane’s probe into funding for Ramaphosa’s political campaign be included in the Cabinet statement to be released on Thursday.
Mthembu denied that Cabinet had discussed any matter related to Mkhwebane, but some of his colleagues told City Press that the matter was raised under issues of “current affairs”, which are not usually discussed in the meeting but acknowledged in the statement because of national interest.
City Press understands that the proposal, which was made while Ramaphosa was out of the room, was roundly rejected by Mthembu’s colleagues because it was “an individual matter” that did not require Cabinet’s interference.
Others were offended by the suggestion.
Mthembu said: “The Cabinet did not discuss any matter related to the Public Protector. Of course, the Cabinet will not discuss a matter that is before another organ of state.
“The question of the Public Protector being investigated is not before Cabinet. That matter is before Parliament, therefore it did not arise in the Cabinet meeting.”