By Kgomotso Ramotsho
The new Public Protector (PP), Busisiwe Mkhwebane, took office on 15 October, at her first media briefing at the offices of the PP in Pretoria, Ms Mkhwebane said her office will no longer name investigation reports to avoid unnecessary tension between the PP’s office and the state. She also announced that the office of the PP will no longer have use of consultants for investigative work, but will rather invest in building internal capacity to include the expertise that the PP offices do not have, such as forensics and auditing or utilising other government or public institutions as provided for by s 7(3) of the Public Protector Act 23 of 1994.
Ms Mkhwebane further said that the office of the PP will no longer use donor funds because of some of the risk associated with it. She said that she was not comfortable with foreign donors and that led to some of the changes and decisions she made when she took office. Ms Mkhwebane indicated that the matter of foreign donors and other information she presented to the Portfolio Committee on 19 October was already in the Annual Report that the former PP, advocate Thuli Madonsela, prepared.
Ms Mkhwebane added that, among other things, the office of the PP under her leadership, will prioritise aging cases through the establishment of a backlog project team that will be focusing on disposing of all cases older than two years. ‘We have a total of 260 cases older than two years under our Good Governance and integrity branch and 47 under Administrative Justice and Services Delivery: We will also prioritise critical posts, including that of a senior security personnel,’ she added.
Ms Mkhwebane stressed that it was important that both offices of the PP are secure, as well as the safe-keeping of sensitive information that is handled. She noted that the office of the PP has placed a moratorium on international travel, especially benchmarking exercises: ‘We believe that enough exchanging of notes with our counterparts elsewhere in the world has been done and I will be getting reports on the lessons we have learnt from all trips that have been undertaken so that we can assess how we have benefited from the engagements,’ she said.
Ms Mkhwebane said she will do her job as the PP without fear or favour. She said she wants to make it possible for an African child in Umhlabuyalingana to also enjoy the fruits of democracy and empower people to be able to hold their leaders to account. However, she said, unfortunately some people in society have mischievously misconstrued her message as meaning she will turn a blind eye on the so-called high profile cases. Ms Mkhwebane said the office of the PP is first to indicate that the ‘improper conduct’, that the Constitution, in s 182(1)(a), states that the office of the PP has the power to investigate allegations or suspicions of, is not limited to service delivery failure.
Ms Mkhwebane said it also includes instances of abuse of power and abuse of state resources. ‘In any event, when a Member of Parliament requests me to investigate allegations of contraventions of the Executive Ethics Code, I am obliged to investigate and report in 30 days, failing which, I must advise the President that I will not meet the deadline. For the record there is no merit in claims that I am going to turn a blind eye in such cases. It is simply not true,’ she said.
Ms Mkhwebane pointed out that the mandate of the office of the PP is not only limited to investigation. She referred to s 182(4) of the Constitution that enjoins the PP to be accessible to all persons and communities. Ms Mkhwebane added that her other priority was to enhance access and visibility of the PP’s office among far-flung communities through public awareness programmes. She said that she informed Parliament that in that area she plans to –
Ms Mkhwebane said the ‘how’ part of the plans she has for her office will be worked out during the strategic planning session. However, in a nutshell, taking the office of the PP to the grassroots and increasing visibility among peripheral communities are the key aspects of her vision for the office over the next seven years.
Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.
This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (Dec) DR 13.