Public Protector: A consensus candidate is a priority

Ad hoc Committee Chair Makhosi Khoza. Picture: Lindile Mbontsi
Ad hoc Committee Chair Makhosi Khoza. Picture: Lindile Mbontsi

Although Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai appears to be the frontrunner to replace Thuli Madonsela as South Africa’s new Public Protector, the special committee overseeing the process says it will seek to reach consensus on the preferred candidate.

Desai is one five candidates – the others are Sharise Weiner, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, Muvhango Lukhaimane and Bongani Majola – who remain in the race to become the Public Protector.

However, he had an erratic interview in which he clashed with opposition MPs and lost his temper.

Committee chairperson Makhosi Khoza said MPs who sit in the committee were consulting with their parties.

“But what we are seeking, in my view, is to get an open mandate where we are taking into account what the members of the public want; what the other parties want – and try to reach a consensus.

“Ideally, I don’t think it’s good enough to just throw in numbers and vote for a position like this. Once you start voting, it begins to lose that multiparty character that is enshrined in the Constitution. It begins to look like it’s only the views of the dominant party,” she said.

For a candidate to be approved, he or she must be supported by 60% of the National Assembly’s MPs.

ANC MPs may have shown their hand when they gave glowing endorsements for Desai in Parliament this week, when the special parliamentary committee that was established to find a new Public Protector met to select the best performers from the interviews held on August 11.

First up was Bongani Bongo, who proposed Desai’s name when the committee was shortlisting 14 candidates from 59. Bongo spoke of Desai’s years of experience on the bench and the “serious” role he played in the struggle against apartheid.

Amos Masondo of the ANC agreed, adding that Desai had leadership qualities that could be put to good use in the Public Protector’s office.

“Judge Desai is not anybody’s yes man. This is very important if we want to ensure the independence of the office remains firmly in place and the work of the office gets done,” said Masondo.

DA MPs had opposed Desai’s shortlisting for interviews last month and clashed with him during the interviews. DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach sought to poke holes in Desai’s character and professional record.

Drawing comparisons with another judge [Weiner] who made it onto the list of the final five, Breytenbach said: “Desai has been on the bench for 21 years and has produced 33 notable judgments, while Weiner has been on the bench for five years and in that time has produced 71 notable judgments.

“He has a tendency to take a while to give judgments, something you don’t want from the office of the Public Protector, which has a high volume of work.”

The Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution raised concerns over the appointment process, especially during the elimination stage, saying it was unsatisfactory.

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