Public Protector finds Zille 'violated Constitution' over involvement in son's teaching project

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Helen Zille (Malherbe Nienaber, Netwerk24)
Helen Zille (Malherbe Nienaber, Netwerk24)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has found that Western Cape Premier Helen Zille violated the executive members ethics code by exposing herself to the risk of a conflict of interest by offering assistance to a workshop programme involving her son in 2014.

ANC member of the Western Cape legislature Cameron Dugmore laid a complaint with the Public Protector in 2017, claiming that Zille breached the provincial government's code of ethics by influencing officials to allow her son, Paul Maree, access to tablets purchased by the Western Cape Education Department.

Mkhwebane noted that while the project benefited many pupils, the premier "exposed herself to a risk of a conflict of interest between her official responsibilities and her private interests".

"So section 136(2) of the Constitution requires the premier not to expose herself to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between her official responsibilities and her private interests. So in this instance she violated the Constitution, especially the Executive Members Ethics Act," said the Public Protector on Wednesday.

Zille claims Maree had offered to tutor matric pupils at schools in poor areas while he was a Mathematics teacher in Khayelitsha in 2014. She says he offered his services and time for free.

An insult to the Office of Public Protector

For a constitutional democracy that (in theory) prides itself on freedom of speech and robust debate, the Public Protector Act is a curious thing. Section 9 of the Act says: "No person shall insult the Public Protector". But what if the greatest insult to the constitutionally enshrined Office of the Public Protector was the conduct of the person holding that office?

The premier claims she followed the necessary procedures in dealing with the matter so as to avoid a conflict of interest or the perception that she was unduly influencing provincial government staff.

Zille has also refuted Dugmore's claim that the Education Department purchased 150 tablets to benefit her son's project, saying the tablets were part of a batch of 480 pre-approved devices to be used in "after-school e-Learning programmes". She says the supplier released the 150 tablets early as it had them in stock.

Zille has questioned why Dugmore waited until 2017 to lay a complaint with Mkhwebane, when her son conducted the workshops in 2014.

The premier says she will take the Public Protector's findings on review.

On Tuesday, Business Live reported that Mkhwebane said she was standing by her findings in a previous case against Zille that the Western Cape premier's tweets on colonialism were racist.

Zille is also challenging that report and Mkhwebane's remedial action.

In March 2017, Zille, shortly after a trip to Singapore, tweeted about the "legacy of colonialism".

The sentiments were widely criticised, with DA leader Mmusi Maimane saying the tweets were "completely unacceptable and indefensible".

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