Mkhwebane angers MPs over SABC inquiry
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has angered MPs after questioning why parliament’s ad hoc committee is continuing with its inquiry into the SABC.
Mkhwebane has also raised the ire of MPs for wanting officials from her office to give evidence on her behalf at the inquiry‚ behind closed doors.
Mkhwebane went as far as questioning whether it would be appropriate for her predecessor‚ Thuli Madonsela‚ to brief the committee on her investigation report on the SABC because the report was the “property” of her office.
Madonsela is one of several key witnesses who were identified by the committee‚ which met on Tuesday‚ but might not be able to make it due to travel commitments.
Committee chairperson Vincent Smith had to remind Mkhwebane‚ in a letter‚ that her request that her officials appear before the inquiry "in camera" would be against National Assembly rules.
"I would like to remind you that per NA rule 170‚ committees must ensure public involvement in accordance with the constitution and the NA rules….. You are therefore required to provide the committee with the reasons why you wish to discuss the above-mentioned Public Protector report in a closed committee meeting‚" wrote Smith.
Smith informed the committee that Mkhwebane was unavailable because of previous engagements.
“She did however indicate that three of her staff members would be competent to come present before this committee. However the condition for them participating would be that it’s done in camera‚” said Smith.
In a letter to deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli‚ Mkhwebane says she’s “quite concerned by the manner in which this matter has been dealt with regards to the communication pertaining to the forthcoming scheduled SABC inquiry by the ad hoc committee”.
She reminds Tsenoli and the committee that the report done by her predecessor‚ “is solely the property of the institution”.
“Kindly provide clarity on whether parliament will expect the former Public Protector to be a witness on all cases investigated under her leadership/tenure even though the report and evidence is the property of this institution and how will this unfold going forward. What precedence is this setting?” asks Mkhwebane.
EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi responded angrily to the conditions put forward by Mkhwebane.
“We must take exception to how the new Public Protector is addressing us. A lot of people we hire here in parliament‚ like this chairperson of the SABC‚ but they don’t want us to hold them accountable.
“They think someone else outside of parliament is the one they need to be fearing as it were. The new public protector must be told in no equivocal terms that this is the institution that constitutionally she reports to. If this institution wants her to come and speak on certain matters‚ unfortunately it’s part of her job description to appear. Parliament is her boss‚ finish and klaar‚” said Ndlozi.
Ndlozi said Mkhwebane was being “very disrespectful” for wanting her staff members to appear “in camera”.
An unimpressed Phumzile van Damme from the DA said reading through the correspondence from Mkhwebane‚ left her “very worried”.
“At first she says she doesn’t understand why this ad hoc committee is continuing with its work now that there’s only one board member left. She said it’s really her prerogative that she comes to parliament or not. Now she suggested that her staff members appear in camera. We should absolutely not agree with that suggestion‚” said Van Damme.
She said the SABC report was in the public domain and the Public Protector’s office “should be able to defend it and speak to it”. The Inkatha Freedom Party's Narend Singh also joined the chorus dismissing Mkhwebane’s suggestions.
“I want to support colleague Van Damme and others that we should not allow anybody‚ whoever they are‚ in camera interviews. This is a public process and this committee has been set up by parliament‚” said Singh.
The committee started its work on Tuesday‚ a day after sole SABC board member Mbulaheni Maguvhe’s application to interdict the committee. Members of the committee‚ who have all been listed as respondents‚ will meet privately with parliament’s lawyers to work out a strategy going forward.