ANC slams Mkhwebane, but EFF protects and lauds her

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane appears before the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. (Jan Gerber, News24)
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane appears before the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. (Jan Gerber, News24)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane was slammed by an ANC MP for a "very angry and aggrieved" presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, but protected and lauded by the EFF.

In a presentation of 40 slides to the committee on Wednesday afternoon on the Public Protector's Annual Performance Plan (APP) – which includes their budget – Mkhwebane used five slides titled "Misunderstanding of the mandate" and "unfair criticism". 

SCROLL: Inside the Public Protector's office: Mkhwebane asks NPA to probe Gordhan over SARS 'rogue unit'

"Recent history has taught us never to assume that our powers are understood by all and sundry, most especially those we expect to be conversant -  verse and chapter – with the constitutional and legislative framework regulating the work of the Public Protector," Mkwhebane said.

"As an example, we recently had a senior Member of the Executive accusing us of venturing into political territory when investigating a complaint lodged in terms of the Executive Members Ethics Act.

"The member of the Executive in question appeared to be under the impression that we just woke up one morning and decided to pursue the subject of the investigation when, in fact, we do not target people."

She said they received a complaint from an MP, and "merely did all that the law requires and empowers" them to do.

'Politically motivated'

She was probably referring to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, whom last month said Mkwhebane's investigation into President Cyril Ramaphosa is politically motivated.

Mkwhebane didn’t mention him by name but didn't correct EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who later said she was referring to Mantashe.

She said they learned the important lesson to never assume that people know what they do and from where their powers are derived. 

In one of the three slides titled "Unfair criticism", Mkwhebane quoted from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng's Nkandla ruling in which he said the Public Protector's "investigative powers are not supposed to bow down to anybody, not even at the door of the highest chambers of raw State power".

She said her office's work isn't easy, and everybody seems to have their own ideas on how it should be done.

She said the reality is that some of their decisions will not go down well with affected parties, who have recourse in asking a court to review the decision. 

She said since the start of her term, seven reports has been set aside by the courts, with only two of those reports were issued by her.

She said since the March 2016 Constitutional Court ruling that the Public Protector's remedial actions are binding unless set aside by a court, they have seen an increase in reports taken on review.

"To date, up to 30 reports I have issued have been taken on review. Some of the cases are frivolous and it can be said that the applications are made merely to save face," she said.

'Angry and aggrieved'

ANC MP Richard Dyantyi said he was confused by her presentation, as their APP made a good case why they need more funds, but this is not reflected in the presentation, which was the "presentation of a Public Protector who is very angry and aggrieved". 

"It should not be here in this committee," he said and suggested that she rather leave it for a press statement.

Ndlozi, who was like Mkwhebane dressed in red, said he found it "ridiculous and an abuse of power" that she must explain to the committee on the content of her reports.

"I think it is wrong and dishonourable to subject the Public Protector's reports to a review [in the committee]," Ndlozi said.

"Go to court if you want a review."

He accused MP's of doing Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Mantashe's bidding. He said her presentation wasn't an angry rant, but a "great preamble" to their APP.

Mkhwebane said she made her opening remarks because it is her first meeting with the Sixth Parliament's justice committee, and she wanted to bring them into her confidence and "reflect the challenges" her office is faced with.

She said while they "operate in a political space", as MPs often lay complaints with her office, they are not influenced by political considerations.

Dyantyi, who was not impressed by Ndlozi's statements, read from the Public Protectors Act, which states that nothing in the act shall prohibit matters relating to the Public Protectors work from being discussed in Parliament.

Responding to a question from EFF MP Thilivhali Mulaudzi on what he called "illegal activity" by Gordhan, Mkhwebane said she referred her investigation into Gordhan on the so called "rogue unit" at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to the National Prosecution Authority. Former National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams decided not to prosecute Gordhan on this matter after a Hawks investigation.

Responding to a question from DA MP Werner Horn, Mkhwebane said the second investigation into the Estina matter is at an advanced stage, with interviews with beneficiaries and politicians concluded. The matter is expected to be concluded by August.

Towards the conclusion of the meeting, Ndlozi said: "I'm very impressed by the work of the office of the Public Protector. Your service to the country is admirable. Very admirable."

ANC MP Xola Nqola asked: "Did she [Mkhwebane] bring any security guards here, in the form of honourable Ndlozi?"

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