Pravin Gordhan's PA in public protector's sights
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is laying criminal charges against a personal assistant in Pravin Gordhan's office for "suspected fraud" over a letter she sent the public enterprises minister, which he said he did not receive.
Mkhwebane's legal adviser informed Gordhan's lawyers, Malatjie Kanyane Incorporated, last week that a criminal case would be opened against the minister's PA as they had evidence that a letter sent on April 24 2019 was delivered to the ministry.
The move further escalates the onslaught against Gordhan, after the public protector instituted two investigations against him and informed his lawyers that she was holding the minister in contempt for not responding to her letter by May 3.
The letter was part of a flurried exchange between the two offices over the investigation of former South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Ivan Pillay's early retirement, as well as a complaint by EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu about the alleged "rogue unit" at the tax authority.
The Sunday Times understands that Mkhwebane has also threatened to report Gordhan's attorney, Tebogo Malatjie, to the Law Society as she does not like his attitude.
Mkhwebane's spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, yesterday confirmed the charges against the secretary.
He said an internal investigation by the public protector's IT unit concluded that e-mail correspondence to the minister via his executive secretary may have been "fraudulently edited" to reflect that it was only sent on May 7.
On Friday, Mkhwebane announced at a media briefing that Gordhan was guilty of "improper conduct" over his approval of Pillay's pension payout. In her report, Mkhwebane tells President Cyril Ramaphosa to take appropriate disciplinary action against Gordhan for violating the constitution.
Mkhwebane's media briefing is widely viewed as an attempt to upstage Ramaphosa's inauguration yesterday and to leave him no option but to exclude Gordhan from his new cabinet.
Gordhan, Pillay and former Sars commissioner Oupa Magashula have all announced that they will take Mkhwebane's report on review to the high court. All three filed representations to the public protector in the past week but these were dismissed by her.
Gordhan said in a statement that he was advised by his senior legal counsel that Mkhwebane's findings were "totally wrong both in fact and in law".
The Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority previously tried to charge Gordhan in connection with Pillay's early retirement but former national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams backtracked on this, saying there was no criminal intention in the approval of the pension payout.
Mkhwebane's decision to announce her findings on the eve of the inauguration is escalating calls for parliament to investigate her fitness to hold office.
The DA wrote to new National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise to ask her to initiate a parliamentary inquiry following another damning court ruling against Mkhwebane.
The high court in Pretoria this week set aside the public protector's report on the Vrede dairy farm matter, finding that it was unlawful and unconstitutional. Mkhwebane was previously slapped down by the high court for her Bankorp-CIEX report, and ordered to pay a portion of the legal costs. The Constitutional Court is yet to rule on this.
The SACP's Solly Mapaila said the party is urging the new parliament to investigate Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office as there are "serious levels of incompetence" and "abuse of a public institution".
"We feel that the public protector has become too factional and is using that office to tarnish Comrade Pravin's name," said Mapaila.
Freedom Under Law said yesterday that Mkhwebane's attempt to reheat a long-cold dish was "alarming" and her failure to engage with Gordhan, Pillay and Magashula's submissions made "a mockery of the most basic tenets of justice".
ANC presidential head Zizi Kodwa said they were concerned by the timing of Mkhwebane's report on Gordhan and had urged him to take it on review.
On Friday, Cosatu questioned Mkhwebane's "competence and credibility".