Public protector under attack

14 October 2012 - 10:32 By SIBUSISO NGALWA

PRESSURE is mounting on the public protector, Thuli Madonsela, as parliament prepares to investigate her following two dossiers from within her office questioning the manner in which she runs the Chapter 9 institution.

This comes after several high-profile ANC politicians, including the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, and chief whip, Mathole Motshekga, accused her of being biased against the party following a series of rulings that embarrassed the government and led to the removal of police commissioner Bheki Cele and public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, among others.

Madonsela told the Sunday Times that she had been approached by a supposed whistle-blower "claiming to complain that a person at the Public Protector SA was putting pressure on her and others to submit a petition to try and impeach the public protector".

The Sunday Times has learnt that one of the dossiers submitted to parliament was written by her deputy, Mamiki Shai.

It claims Madonsela has been lenient with the opposition DA.

Shai claims that Madonsela:

  • Changed findings on a report concerning the DA-led Midvaal Municipality;
  • Deliberately withheld the release of the report into Midvaal Municipality until after local government elections were held;
  • Did not act against a senior executive in her office who was facing a fraud charge for allegedly forging Shai's signature;
  • Sought to change recommendations of the Good Governance and Integrity Committee, which were damning of her;
  • Took up cases that were beyond her jurisdiction and hired external consultants to handle cases; and
  • Adopted a "Hollywood style" approach to investigations and thus damaged people's reputations in public.

Shai's dossier is with parliament, but has yet to be officially tabled before the justice portfolio committee.

In her submission, Shai said she had resorted to parliament because Madonsela had become "defensive and dismissive of any constructive criticism and inputs".

She said she had been the one leading the investigation into corruption allegations in the DA-ruled Midvaal but Madonsela had changed the findings.

"When the report was changed, [I] was not informed nor consulted.

"Furthermore, the report, which was ready for release at least by early 2011, was delayed for no justifiable reason and it was only released after the municipal elections were held," she said.

Approached for comment, Madonsela said she had only discovered yesterday that Shai had made a submission to parliament.

She denied being lenient with the DA in the Midvaal case.

"The accusation is baseless and totally misleading. Firstly, the public protector entered the scene at a stage when a draft report dismissing all allegations had been prepared. It was under the public protector's hand that a more thorough investigation was done and many allegations substantiated," she said.

She denied putting pressure on the internal Good Governance and Integrity Committee to change its recommendations regarding the anonymous complaints, but said that committee - headed by Shai - had produced its own report instead of fixing "gaps" in a task team report.

"The public protector is not aware of any constructive criticism she was dismissive of. The only matter she is aware of is ... a process that fell through due to no fault of [mine]," she said.

She had written to parliament in July to ask it to investigate the matter as the "continuous anonymous letters were destabilising and distracting my office".

Madonsela denied that she had acted against the senior executive accused of fraud. She said the official had been cleared of wrongdoing by the inspector-general of intelligence in August.

Parliament will now request more submissions from staff within the public protector's office.

The public protector came under fire from ANC MPs when she appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development on Friday.

Questioned about perceptions that she was "selective" in her investigation, Madonsela told the committee: "I have asked [ Nzimande] to supply details of selectivity in our investigations. And he has not yet done that."

The chairman of the committee, Luwellyn Landers, confirmed that his committee had been asked to probe a letter sent anonymously by members of Madonsela's staff this year.

He would not confirm whether he was in possession of Shai's memorandum, saying: "Anything else that I have does not enjoy any status at this point, so I'm not able to confirm that."

Landers said there was a view on the committee that "we should formally request anyone in that office who may ... want to come forward [to] please feel free to do so.

"We will respect the fact that [they] will not want to be identified," said Landers.

In her reply to Sunday Times questions, Shai denied any conflict between her and Madonsela. When contacted by the Sunday Times on Friday, she did not deny the existence of the submission to parliament.

An ANC source in parliament said the party wanted Madonsela to deal with problems in her office and not seek public glory.

"What we want is for her to deal with issues in her office and not project the false picture that everything is perfect.

"She is asking for more money which shows that she is biting off more than she can chew," said the source.

ANC NEC member Billy Masetlha said the party had held its own meeting with Madonsela where issues were raised, but generally they had no serious complaints about her performance or the investigations she decided to undertake.

"We have to make sure we create an amicable relationship with all state institutions.

"We can't be having a problem with an individual ... we are quite comfortable with our relationship with the public protector," he said. - Additional reporting by Caiphus Kgosana