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Ramaphosa says 'nothing underhand or hidden' in suspending Mkhwebane

10 June 2022 - 18:04
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday explained the timing of his decision to suspend public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday explained the timing of his decision to suspend public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Image: GCIS.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has justified his decision to suspend public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane with immediate effect on the eve of a judgment from the Western Cape High Court in which she sought an interim interdict preventing her suspension.

“Having gone through all of those arguments, I then decided that because the process in parliament had started in earnest and as it has now, that the constitution entitles me to suspend her and all of these processes were open and public and there was nothing underhand or hidden,” he said on Friday.

Ramaphosa was asked to explain the timing of Mkhwebane’s suspension during an interaction with the media after he replied to his presidency budget vote in Cape Town.

TimesLIVE reported on Thursday that Ramaphosa’s office said Mkhwebane would remain suspended until an impeachment process in parliament has been completed. Impeachment hearings are due to get under way on July 11.

Ramaphosa had accorded Mkhwebane sufficient time and opportunity to make submissions and had taken into account “the nature of the public protector's office and his own constitutional obligations”. The constitution provided that if, for any reason, the public protector was unable to perform her functions, her deputy would do so. 

“The absence of advocate Mkhwebane from office will therefore not impede the progress of any investigations that are pending or under way.”

The high court on Friday dismissed Mkhwebane's application for an interim interdict to halt impeachment proceedings against her in parliament and prevent her suspension.

Explaining his decision Ramaphosa said: “We have been dealing with this matter for a considerable amount of time and in fact, as early as March, we were dealing with it. After receiving a letter from the speaker of the National Assembly, I wrote to the public protector and said... 'the president has the power to suspend a high-ranking official like the public protector once there are processes in the National Assembly that have been commenced to remove her'.

“I said to her that she must give me reasons why I shouldn’t do so. And that whole process took quite a long time. I had given her 10 days and there has been a back and forth [of]  responses that even went way beyond that 10 days.

“Obviously she had raised a number of issues, issues such as conflict, that I could have been involved in judicial capture, the Zondo commission ... and a whole range of other issues” 

Ramaphosa said he analysed Mkhwebane's representations after receiving them and wrote back to her.

“I thanked her for the representations that she has made as to why she should not be suspended and I went through all of them and gave her a nine-page letter where all of this is detailed and I said in the premises that have been covered in the letter, I do not believe that there is a conflict of interest and she had also said that there are — or pending — investigations that involve me and I said an investigation does not create a conflict of interest because it may either turn out positive or negative.

With regards to Mkhwebane’s lawsuit, Ramaphosa said: “I did ask for time frames. I did not know that a judgment would be coming out ... I felt that I should still go ahead not withstanding that.

“The issue of timing has to be looked at in the historic processes that had taken place. It was not an immediate turn of event and it was not really linked to the investigation that she argues to have lodged in relation to the robbery at the farm.”

He added that integrity of the office of the public protector should continue.

“The work of that office must not come to an end, it continues. The deputy public protector will be able to take the work forward, grounded on the principles of no prejudice, favour and impartiality.

“If those are the principles that will guide anyone in that office, then we should not be concerned as to who does the work,” said Ramaphosa.

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