Mkhwebane 'well within her rights' to investigate Ramaphosa, high court told

04 February 2020 - 18:05 By Qaanitah Hunter
Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane was representing public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane in the north Gauteng high court on Tuesday.
Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane was representing public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane in the north Gauteng high court on Tuesday.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

“A public official cannot say, ‘Oh sorry, I received a billion rand privately.'”

This is according to advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, who was representing public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane in the North Gauteng High Court on Tuesday.

Sikhakhane insisted that President Cyril Ramaphosa misled parliament when he answered a question from DA leader Mmusi Maimane about a R500,000 donation made to his CR17 ANC presidential campaign in 2017.

“The first applicant was wrong that there was no jurisdiction – absolutely wrong. The public protector was well within her rights to investigate the matter,” Sikhakhane told the court as he opposed Ramaphosa’s lawyers' arguments.

Mkhwebane is opposing Ramaphosa’s bid to have the Bosasa report, which implicates him, set aside and deemed unlawful.

“It is reasonable for a matter of this nature [for] the highest office in the land to disclose [a] benefit of that nature,” Sikhakhane said in response to an argument made by Ramaphosa’s legal team that he did not have to disclose donations made to an internal party campaign.

Sikhakhane said there was a risk that Ramaphosa would be conflicted by receiving donations.

“In our private lives, as powerful as we are, you have to watch your private life. You can create a situation where there is a risk that those who funded you want contracts when you are president,” he said.

Sikhakhane said every argument made by Ramaphosa’s legal team was not borne in facts.

“It was reasonable to suspect – not convict – of money laundering. It is something she can send to more competent bodies,” he said.

Ramaphosa's lawyer, Wim Trengove, told the court that Mkhwebane had an “irrational determination to make adverse findings against the president”.

In her report that found Ramaphosa misled parliament, violated the executive ethics code and acted inconsistently with his office, Mkhwebane also found prima facie evidence of money laundering in the more than R400m in donations made to the CR17 campaign. The investigation was in relation to a 2017 donation of R500,000 Bosasa boss Gavin Watson made to Ramaphosa'a ANC presidential campaign.

Ramaphosa turned to courts to have the so-called “Bosasa report” set aside and declared unlawful.

The president is relying on two main arguments to dislodge Mkhwebane’s report: that he did not know about the donation made to his CR17 campaign, and that Mkhwebane did not have jurisdiction to investigate donations made to a private political campaign.

His legal team is seeking to prove to the court that Mkhwebane erred in the law when she misread the executive ethics code, made a material error of fact in finding Ramaphosa misled parliament, and that the finding of suspicion of money laundering was irrational with no legal basis.

Addressing the court in the morning, Trengove called Mkhwebane findings “irrational” and “inexplicable”, adding that they “suggested a reckless determination to make a finding against the president”.

Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, also for Ramaphosa, argued that Mkhwebane did not have the jurisdiction to investigate the finances of a political party campaign, adding that she did not have any facts underpinning her conclusions.

The hearing will continue on Wednesday.