'Who made Thuli God?'

05 February 2015 - 02:08 By Sipho Masombuka and Dominic Skelton
Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery. File photo
Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery. File photo
Image: SABC

Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery has slammed what he said was an attempt to turn the office of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela into a quasi-judicial body with immense powers.

"Surely the public protector is not a quasi-judicial body," he said. "[Her] powers are to investigate, and make findings and recommendations, and put them into the public domain. It is in the public domain that the action must be taken."

Speaking during a debate on Madonsela's powers hosted by the Law Society of SA at the University of Pretoria yesterday, Jeffery argued that the public protector would wield too much power if her findings were to be binding.

"[Madonsela] is essentially an investigator, prosecutor and judge all rolled into one. That is quite unheard of in our law.

"If [her] findings are binding, maybe we need to do away with a lot of the courts," he said.

Jeffery said he was surprised that there had been no debate on the powers of the public protector until the release of Madonsela's findings on the R246-million "security upgrading" of President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead with public money.

He said Madonsela's predecessor, Selby Baqwa, had said that the Chapter 9 institution's findings were not legally binding.

With the exception of Madonsela, the panellists in the debate - retired Constitutional Court judge Zak Yacoob, Wits School of Law deputy head Mtende Mhango and the executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, Lawson Naidoo - agreed that the public protector's findings were not legally binding.

Madonsela argued that a public protector's findings were binding - unless set aside by a court of law. The courts' duty, as was the protector's, was to the constitution, she said.

Yacoob qualified his opinion by saying that, although Madonsela's findings were not legally binding, the state was bound by the constitution to assist and protect Chapter 9 institutions.

"These institutions are not accountable to the government, as much as the government might wish it to were so; they are accountable to parliament and only to parliament," he said.

Naidoo said the country would be on "a slippery slope" if the executive ignored Madonsela's findings.