Mkhwebane only goes to court to 'defend mandate of Public Protector', committee hears

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.(Jan Gerber/News24).
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.(Jan Gerber/News24).

She does not "just go to court", she defends cases about the mandate of the Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane told the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on Saturday after several MPs questioned the various cases before the courts involving her.

Mkhwebane said she was "defending several matters where the matter has an impact on the mandate of the Public Protector".

"We don't just go to court," she added, saying the office was taken to court when her reports were taken on review.

Mkhwebane said they did not budget specifically for litigation, as it was not their core business - investigations were.

She added she was concerned the Public Protector was portrayed as the "only institution which is facing litigation", while, according to her own research, the other entities reporting to the committee also have their cases being taken on review.

READ | Cash-strapped Public Protector dealing with 158 cases during lockdown

Mkhwebane said the Department of Justice paid R1.8 billion in legal fees, the Special Investigation Unit R21 million and police R300 million. The Department of Home Affairs, which does not report to the committee, had legal fees of around R1.9 billion.

Personal cost order

In three cases, a personal costs order was granted against Mkwhebane. In one of these, the controversial Absa/Bankorp investigation, the Constitutional Court upheld the personal costs order - the other two cases have not reached that stage yet.

"The personal costs order has been paid up. And again, that shows the issue of the public paying for my costs because I have been doing the public's work, to defend the public," said Mkhwebane.

She added the R260 000 was paid on her behalf without her handling the money, saying she had informed the "people who were collecting the money" - whom she did not name - of the bill and they settled it.

READ | EFF files for leave to appeal judgment in Ramaphosa review of Public Protector's CR17 report

In March, News24 reported Mkhwebane had suspended the head of her Free State office, Sphelo Samuel, the day after he wrote an official letter calling on her to resign.

In the letter, dated 10 March, which was sent to all staff, Samuel asked Mkhwebane to "save whatever pride you may have left, admit to your flaws and failure to lead this institution, and tender your resignation, in the interests of the organisation and of the country".

DA MP Werner Horn asked about this, and how many other staff members were currently suspended.

Mkhwebane said "several of those employees had violated the policy of the Public Protector".

"It is an issue of discipline that needs to be enforced," she added.

Acting CEO Yalekile Lusibane said five staff members were currently suspended. She requested to be allowed not to divulge further details.

State Security Agency

Mkhwebane's relationship with her former employer, the State Security Agency (SSA), has often been a bone of contention, particular between her and the DA.

Horn enquired about the SSA's involvement with a case management system, for which the Public Protector wants R15 million in the 2020/2021 financial year and then R1 million for the following two years.

"Is Parliament expected for fork out R10 million to pay the SSA?" he asked.

READ | Mkhwebane fights back: 'Successful reviews of my reports cannot determine my incompetence'

Mkhwebane said she engaged with the SSA to "assist like any other state institution".

She added the agency had recommended an international service provider, which provided the Public Protector with a quote for a web-based case management system, but they decided not to take them up on the offer.

Mkhwebane told the committee the meeting had taken place a month after she completed a full three-and-a-half years in office.

"I am now at the halfway mark of my seven-year journey, leading a team of about 360 dedicated, experienced and highly competent men and women who are passionate about contributing towards levelling the playing field between grassroots communities and their better-off counterparts," she said.

Parliament's removal proceedings against Mkhwebane - which is currently in limbo - were not discussed at the meeting.

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