Thursday’s proceedings of the Parliament impeachment inquiry into suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office saw a senior manager in the office of the Public Protector being asked to provide accurate dates of his meetings with the former head of the State Security Agency (SSA).
Baldwin Neshunzhi had to provide the inquiry with the correct date on when he met Arthur Fraser whom he said had called him to raise a concern that Mkhwebane did not feel supported enough by him.
In his affidavit, and throughout his testimony on Thursday, Neshunzhi said Fraser had called him while he was still head of SSA to alert him about the concerns that Mkhwebane had raised about his performance and that he needed to pull up his socks and go beyond the call of duty to assist the Public Protector.
Was it 2019 or 2018 or when exactly?
However, the chairperson of the Section 194 committee, Qubudile Dyantyi, flagged that Fraser had long left SSA in 2019 and was then the national commissioner of correctional services. But Neshunzhi was adamant that Fraser called him when he was still the head of SSA.
Mixed-up dates but the meeting happened
Neshunzhi said he might have mixed up the dates and would have to double-check, but what he was certain of was that he met with Fraser to discuss the alleged lack of support for Mkhwebane.
“I will have to confirm that. But it was shortly before he left. I know for a fact because I drove to Musanda [complex] in the evening, so he was still there. I could have mixed up the information,” he said.
ANC MP Xola Nqola later said that Neshunzhi would have to go back to his records and write to the committee to provide exactly in what capacity did Fraser meet with him.
Another ANC MP, Boyce Maneli, also asked Neshunzhi if he did not find it “odd” that Fraser as the director-general of the SSA (assuming the meeting took place in 2017 when he still held that position) had called him to discuss operational matters that Mkhwebane could have raised with Neshunzhi directly.
“It didn’t feel odd because, as I said, the Public Protector is an executive authority and Arthur Fraser was in charge of the national intelligence of the country. So, when he called me, I was not surprised because I thought perhaps there were issues counterintelligence he wanted to alert me about. I thought he was just performing his duty.
“Of course, when he told me that I was not providing sufficient support to the Public Protector that was when I got concerned because I did not know in which way I was not providing that support.”
In February 2019, when he was still the senior manager responsible for security management, Neshunzhi was suspended for allegedly leaking information that former CEO Vussy Mahlangu – who appeared as a witness before the committee this week – had been working without the requisite security clearance.
However, Neshunzhi denied that he had done so. He told evidence leader Advocate Nazreen Bawa that even before an investigation was done and concluded, he was suspended. This was the second time he said he was unfairly suspended.
He was never given a suspension letter but was given “a so-called garden leave”, from February until July 2019.
Missing information - IT just following instructions
Neshunzhi said when he was suspended, his laptop was taken from him, and when he returned to work in July, there was information missing from his computer:
On “several” times, he approached IT to share that there was information missing from his computer.
“I managed to retrieve some of the information with the assistance of IT. But when I asked questions, they indicated to me that ‘we have got nothing to say but we follow instruction’. That’s all that they told me. And I couldn’t put them under unnecessary pressure,” he told the committee.
Neshunzhi wrote in his affidavit that after he came back from his suspension, he enquired what the outcomes of the investigations were from human resources and Mahlangu, but he never got an answer.
“When I asked Mahlangu in relation to hereto he indicated that he would first talk to the Public Protector about it, but thereafter it was business as usual.”
‘Pandemic of leakages in Public Protector’s office’
Nqola told Neshunzhi that there appeared to be a “pandemic of leakages” in the office of the Public Protector and whether as a person who was responsible for security management, at the time, did this mean that the unit did not have people with the requisite skills to ensure that there were no leakages.
Neshunzhi said the leakages had nothing to do with the people, but rather weak systems.
He also shared that in his first ‘unfair’ suspension, Mkhwebane had accused him of not being able to handle information and ordered that he stayed at home and that training would be provided for him through the SSA. This suspension, where he also did not receive a suspension letter, was in part related to documents that came from the Presidency that the office of the Public Protector had assumed had been leaked.
When the documents were delivered, Neshunzhi said he had not been called to collect them, but instead they were picked up by someone from Mkhwebane’s private office. The information that was in the documents was then reported in the media and it was suspected that the information had been leaked from the office of the Public Protector.
“I was asked to account for the leak and how it was allowed to occur,” said Neshunzhi.
He investigated and after several interviews, it was concluded that the leak did not come from the office of the Public Protector, but that the Presidency had issued a media statement about the documents being provided to the office.
“It was quite apparent to me that it appeared that the relationship was now deteriorating. I had the sense that there was a feeling that I was not doing what I was supposed to do to support the work of the Office of the Public Protector,” said Neshunzhi.
It was after that incident that Neshunzhi said he received a call from Fraser letting him know that Mkwhebane was not happy about his performance.
The committee will continue with evidence from the former deputy commissioner of the SA Revenue Service, Ivan Pillay.