Busisiwe Mkhwebane comes out guns blazing in parliament, takes aim at Gwede Mantashe

10 July 2019 - 16:41 By Andisiwe Makinana
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Image: Esa Alexander

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane came out guns blazing when she appeared before parliament's justice committee on Wednesday afternoon to present her office’s annual plan and budget.

Mkhwebane sharply criticised mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe, albeit without naming him, when she suggested Mantashe didn't understand the powers of her office.

Last month, Mantashe accused Mkhwebane of venturing into political terrain, questioning why she was only investigating President Cyril Ramaphosa’s donation from Bosasa boss Gavin Watson and not the donations to other candidates who campaigned for leadership positions in the ANC.

Mkhwebane began by outlining the mandate of her office, including that she enjoys additional investigative powers provided to her office by the constitution and a number of laws. She also spoke about the office’s corruption mandate in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Activities Act.

She explained that when her office investigated in terms of this law and established evidence of corruption, it deferred to the Hawks to take the matter further and bring in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

“Of late there has been a debate on whether we have the power to investigate alleged money laundering in relation to one of the matters before us. Our view is, depending on the nature of the complaint, we can invoke this law to deal with that kind of case,” she said.

Mkhwebane said her office also had the power to enforce executive ethics under the Executive Members’ Ethics Act. Under this law, complaints about suspected breaches of the executive code of ethics could only be received from members of the executive, MPs and members of provincial legislatures.

“Only my office can investigate such claims and on receipt of a complaint, we are obligated to investigate. Such investigations ought to be concluded within a month, failing which I must write to the president or premier to inform them of the failure to meet deadline,” she said.

“While it may come across as a waste of time to mention this ‘obvious’ information, recent history has taught us never to assume that our powers are understood by all and sundry, most especially those we expect to be conversant - verse and chapter - with the constitutional and legislative framework regulating the work of the public protector.

“As an example, we recently had a senior member of the executive accusing us of venturing into political territory when investigating a complaint lodged in terms of Executive Members’ Ethics Act.

“The member of the executive in question appeared to be under the impression that we just woke up one morning and decided to pursue the subject of the investigation, when in fact, we do not target people,” said Mkhwebane.

She explained that, instead, they received a complaint from an MP and merely did what the law required and empowered them to do.

Her appearance in parliament is continuing.

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