Parliament struggling to kick off Busisiwe Mkhwebane probe

16 July 2020 - 14:26
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.

Parliament is struggling to put together a three-member panel that would kick off an investigation into whether public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is fit to hold that office.

National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise revealed on Thursday that potential panellists who were approached to serve in this regard declined, citing possible conflict of interest.

“We must also emphasise that the declines did give reasons, and the reasons were some of those that we had not been aware of.

“They cited possibilities of conflict which come in were they to serve. All the reasons given to us were open and, we think, honest,” she said.

Secretary to the National Assembly Masibulele Xaso told the meeting of the assembly's programme committee that potential panellists were indeed approached but of those approached, only one was able to indicate availability to serve.

“The speaker is now in a process of approaching another set of panellists out of the names that were submitted by parties,” he said.

So far, four have declined, said Xaso.

Modise said her office would go back to political parties to seek more names that could be considered if the people she was reaching out to did not make themselves available.

Parliament has been mum on the names of those proposed by parties including those whom Modise approached.

The DA tabled the motion calling for an inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office early this year. DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone claimed Mkhwebane had time and again demonstrated an inability to conduct her work independently. Mazzone also questioned the public protector’s understanding of law and her mandate.

Parliamentary rules provide for the establishment of an independent panel of experts to make a preliminary assessment of the motion.

In March, parties represented in parliament nominated preferred persons to serve on the panel.

Having considered their nominations, Modise selected three “fit and proper persons” to conduct the preliminary assessment.

Parliament previously said that in addition to the invitation to the three people to serve on the panel, Modise had also asked them to indicate if they believed the process over which they would preside was possible, within the Covid-19 restrictions.

The purpose of the panel is to conduct a preliminary assessment about whether there is prima facie evidence to show that Mkhwebane has committed the misconduct alleged in the motion filed by the DA, and/or whether she is incompetent for the reasons alleged in the motion.

Parliament rules specify that the panel should comprise three fit and proper SA citizens who, collectively, possess the necessary legal and other competencies and experience to conduct the preliminary assessment.

The panel would complete its assessment and report, which would include recommendations with reasons and any minority views of panellists, to the National Assembly within 30 days of its formal appointment.

Based on the panel’s recommendations, the assembly would then decide whether an inquiry should go ahead or not.