Helen Zille. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Helen Zille. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s national office has taken over an investigation into a complaint laid against Western Cape premier Helen Zille.

Mkhwebane’s office in the Western Cape had been handling the complaint‚ laid by the ANC last year after Zille allegedly put pressure on officials in her government to help kick start her son’s fledgling business.

At the time, The Sunday Times reported on copies of e-mails that showed the provincial government worked on tight deadlines to ensure Zille’s son‚ Paul Maree‚ and his business partner‚ Chris Mills‚ had the use of 150 new tablets worth R625‚000 for a school holiday project.

They showed that the Western Cape department of education treated the project as a "priority" and did "everything it could possibly [do] to expedite" the procurement of tablets by Maree’s deadline.

Their project was to run holiday workshops for matric pupils in three township schools in Cape Town. The two have since registered a business‚ Paper Video‚ based on the concept. At the time‚ Zille dismissed any suggestion of wrongdoing by either her or her officials.

This week, the Public Protector’s spokesperson Cleopatra Mosala confirmed that the probe had been taken over by the national office. "The matter relating to the premier was lodged in terms of Executive Members’ Ethics Act and [the department of education’s] departmental supply management processes‚ [and was] therefore prioritised for investigation by national office."

She said the office took over as the period to finalise the investigation was 30 days. The complaint was laid in June 2017.

According to Mosala, the Public Protector was considering Zille’s responses to its questions, but when contacted on Thursday‚ Zille said although there had been various interactions with the office of the Public Protector‚ she was not aware that the probe had been taken over by the national office.

"No‚ I was not aware. And yes‚ I am surprised‚" said Zille. "The reason‚ I suspect‚ is that they know I did nothing wrong‚ but they are desperate to find a reason to say that I did. The process has been seriously flawed‚ which raises further concerns‚ and will be addressed at the appropriate time."

The complaint was laid by Western Cape MPL Cameron Dugmore on behalf of the ANC. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday‚ but has publicly criticised the Western Cape office of the Public Protector for dragging its feet on complaints against Zille’s office.