Editorial

This rogue investigator is what the public most need to be protected from

16 June 2019 - 00:06 By SUNDAY TIMES
It's been two years and eight months since Busisiwe Mkhwebane has been in office as the public protector and in this short time, two courts have set aside her reports as irrational.
It's been two years and eight months since Busisiwe Mkhwebane has been in office as the public protector and in this short time, two courts have set aside her reports as irrational.
Image: SUPPLIED

It's been two years and eight months since Busisiwe Mkhwebane was selected as public protector. It's been two years and eight months of madness. In this short time, not one but two courts have set aside her reports as irrational. We should have seen the warning signs when, shortly after assuming office, she went after a lost cause that had been put to bed decades ago. The saga of the R1.25bn Reserve Bank lifeboat for Bankorp, which later became Absa, was investigated by more competent authorities than her, which found little that was untoward.

But Mkhwebane saw fit to reopen the file, producing a startling report that ordered Absa to repay the R1.25bn. Unsurprisingly, the North Gauteng High Court struck down that report, deeming its remedial actions unlawful. The court was scathing of her conduct.

"The public protector did not conduct herself in a manner which should be expected from a person occupying the office. She did not have regard thereto that her office requires her to be objective, honest and to deal with matters according to law and that a higher standard is expected from her," the court said.

This alone should have been grounds enough to institute an inquiry
Sunday Times

This judgment alone should have been grounds enough to institute a parliamentary inquiry into her fitness to hold office.

Mkhwebane has, through her questionable actions, betrayed her real motives - that she is actively doing the bidding of a particular faction in the ANC. Her relentless pursuit of public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, disregarding a number of findings that the early retirement gratuity offered to Ivan Pillay, a former South African Revenue Service deputy commissioner, did not amount to a crime, is another example.

Her attempts to stifle the investigation into the 2013 Waterkloof air base scandal, in which the Gupta family used the facility to bring in wedding guests, is also inexplicable. Her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, has publicly confirmed the investigation is complete and all Mkhwebane needs to do is release the report. Why is the public protector trying to kill this investigation? Who is she really trying to protect?

The omens were there when Mkhwebane went on a late-night Twitter tirade two weeks ago, bizarrely declaring that her power and position were sanctioned by God. A few days later, a Sunday newspaper claimed to have in its possession a draft report of her investigation into a R500,000 donation to the campaign of President Cyril Ramaphosa by Bosasa boss Gavin Watson.

According to the paper, Mkhwebane found that Ramaphosa may have misled parliament, and may have breached the executive code of ethics by accepting the donation.

The presidency has confirmed that Mkhwebane has issued Ramaphosa with a section 7 (9) notice to respond to her findings before she concludes the report. If indeed she has found that Ramaphosa misled parliament and breached the executive code of ethics, then we are in for a roller-coaster ride.

Should the president not challenge her findings in court, parliament will have no option but to institute impeachment proceedings against him, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis.

The timing of her section 7 (9) notice is also questionable, a week before Ramaphosa - fresh from obtaining an electoral mandate - prepares to deliver his state of the nation address in parliament this week. We are not suggesting that Ramaphosa should be beyond scrutiny but the CR17 campaign - recipient of the donation in question - has already said the president was not aware of it, and has offered to return the money to Watson. Yes, Ramaphosa's people should have known better than to accept money from such a dodgy character in the first place, but is this saga serious enough to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis? For whom is this public protector working?


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