As Kevin Malunga wraps up his last month as Deputy Public Protector, he has sent a stern warning to his successor to avoid becoming too familiar with individuals who could compromise their credibility, saying that “conflict of interest is one thing that keeps coming up in our line of work”.
“Do not sell yourself for anyone, do not be a sweetheart or buddy-buddy to people in the state or politicians, that is not your role,” he said.
Malunga said it was key to ensure that the incoming candidate could do the job “without fear, favour or prejudice”.
“I am not saying be hostile, but you need to remember that the nature of the job is such that you have an oversight role over state activity.
“Government officials do not understand or choose not to understand what a conflict of interest is,” Malunga said.
The National Assembly confirmed last Wednesday that Kholeka Gcaleka would take over the position and her name would be sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa for ratification.
Malunga said about the job: “It has been very colourful, very intense, very dramatic, very fulfilling as well.”
He said Thuli Madonsela’s term was a turning point for the institution, which seemed to have been lurking in the shadows before then.
“Of course Madonsela’s term was an interesting point, during which the institution grew exponentially and was known by the South African public largely because of the nature of the investigations, such as Nkandla and state capture.”
He said: “She [Madonsela] did a fantastic job but there were so many own goals; the system as a whole was messed up and the legacy of that is still active today.”
Malunga said the office now received “tens of thousands of complaints” which had not only helped to hold the government accountable, but also to empower ordinary citizens.
The role he played in the Glebelands Hostel investigation and the nudist beach investigation were cases he would not forget.
Although Glebelands was a more serious matter, he said the nudist beach case was one of the “lighter” moments.
He assured City Press that he was indeed clothed when he investigated the matter.
Malunga has in the past been reported as saying that he was being sidelined by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Media reports suggest that at one of the meetings earlier this year‚ Mkhwebane had stopped Malunga’s involvement in the office’s investigative work because he did not have security clearance.
The outgoing deputy told City Press that he had a “thick skin” and was “a person of integrity”.
“Sidelining me is going to be like water off elephant skin; I know my values are in tune and the way I do things is firm and ethical.
“I have been able to make it, no matter what. Right until the end of term, the pace has been high,” he said.
Malunga said there needed to be better systems put in place by the office to handle cases, as well as well-trained investigators who were not easily intimidated.
“One thing the institution does not have and has not been able to finalise is the case management system – it has been a challenge. Reports need to be of the highest quality and that means there is a peer review system internally among investigators, something we had before but do not have now,” he said.
The advocate said there needed to be greater attempts to protect whistle-blowers, who were one of the most important groups to report incidents of fraud and corruption.
“It is not an attractive thing to blow the whistle, but I think the government needs to make an effort to ensure that these people are protected. For whistle-blowers to be able to talk they must be protected.”
Malunga was one of the candidates considered for the Public Services Commissioner (PSC) position, but ranked second after former Umsindisi municipality mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo, who has yet to receive the backing of the National Assembly because twice it could not make a quorum to vote for her.
A decision will be made next year.
The DA has been fighting relentlessly to have Malunga take up the vacancy instead.
“The DA reiterates its call for Hlatshwayo’s name to be immediately withdrawn as she [Hlatshwayo] is not independent or fit and proper. Instead, we recommend the appointment of Kevin Malunga, who also applied for the PSC position,” the DA said.
Zimbabwean-born Malunga’s nationality was allegedly questioned during the selection process and this led to him being snubbed for the position – despite the fact that he was a naturalised citizen.
“There is a limited understanding of what citizenship is; it means when you are naturalised you are a citizen of the country,” Malunga said.