Public protector 'looking forward' to Pravin Gordhan's appearance before her

12 November 2018 - 17:13 By Ernest Mabuza
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Image: Reuters

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane says her mandate is to investigate any conduct alleged to be improper, regardless of whether it had previously been dropped as a criminal case in court.

She said not all improper conduct or maladministration constituted criminal conduct or a criminal offence.

Mkhwebane said this on Monday in response to a statement by public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan’s attorney on Sunday.

Attorney Tebogo Malatji said that Mkhwebane had sent a letter to the minister in February asking him to respond to allegations that he irregularly approved Ivan Pillay’s retirement package and later allowed him to be re-employed by the South African Revenue Service in 2010.

Malatji said the letter from Mkhwebane reiterated the same allegations that were the  subject of a criminal investigation and criminal charges by the National Prosecuting Authority in October 2017.

He said the criminal charges were withdrawn by the National Director of Public Prosecutions based on, among other considerations, written submissions from Gordhan’s lawyers.

Mkhwebane responded: “With regard to confusion over the fact that a criminal case into issues similar to those before the public protector has been withdrawn, the attention of the public is drawn to the fact that the public protector’s mandate is essentially to investigate any conduct alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice, maladministration and/or abuse or unjustifiable exercise of power.

"Not all improper conduct or maladministration constitutes criminal conduct or an offence," said Mkhwebane.

On the use of attorneys and advocates during appearances before the public protector she said the law provided for legal assistance but not legal representation. "This means that attorneys or advocates cannot speak on behalf of the person appearing before the public protector," she said.

Mkhwebane said she was empowered by the law to conduct a preliminary investigation for the purpose of determining the merits of complaints, allegations or information.

"The investigation into the alleged conduct of minister Gordhan is therefore at a preliminary stage. Accordingly, the public protector is affording him an opportunity to respond to the allegations or the complaint," she said.

Mkhwebane said she did not wish to comment further.

Mkhwebane's acting spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, said: "She looks forward to minister Gordhan's appearance before her this week so that she can execute her constitutional mandate independently, impartially and without fear, favour or prejudice."