Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: SUPPLIED
Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: SUPPLIED

Parliament’s justice and correctional services portfolio committee chairman Mathole Motshekga came out to bat for Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on Wednesday in the face of a DA onslaught.

The DA and other opposition parties have been pushing for Parliament to remove the embattled public protector from office for alleged incompetence and misconduct.

This comes amid concern that the crucial Chapter 9 institution, which is meant to guard democracy and fight corruption, was fast losing credibility under Mkhwebane’s watch. Mkhwebane is also said to have side-lined her deputy, Kevin Malunga, for not having a full top-secret security clearance.

“There is currently no basis for Parliament to say we have a public protector that is not fit to hold office,” said Motshekga.

“The fact that there is [an adverse] court finding [against the public protector] is immaterial. An inquiry [into her fitness to hold office] is exclusive to Parliament,” Motshekga said as he concluded a committee meeting on the matter.

It was a rule of natural justice “that we must hear the other side”, he said, and “we have not heard the other side”.

Motshekga said he was not keen to be party to situations in which the head of a Chapter 9 institution was hauled into the public arena, “which may suggest that we do not have confidence in her”.

Mkhwebane appeared before the committee earlier on Wednesday to discuss the appointment of her special adviser, Sibusiso Nyembe, a conveyancing attorney. The committee wanted to know if she had received approval to make the appointment.

The public protector, who skipped last week’s portfolio committee meeting citing a family emergency, apologised to MPs for her non-appearance. She said she had wanted to attend the meeting in person and not delegate, because the matter deserved her personal attention.

Mkhwebane had written a letter to Parliament in May explaining why she had decided to stop delegating work to her deputy altogether. This letter was apparently only received by the chairman on Tuesday and had not been made available to the rest of the members of the committee. Motshekga said the letter would be distributed to other members once he had studied “its authenticity”.

Decoy

In a tweet, Malunga suggested he was being used as a decoy. “There is nothing big here. Probably that old security clearance story. It [has] never been a requirement of the job. Just a decoy.” He said he had been a South African citizen for almost 10 years.

The State Security Agency, which screened the 14 candidates applying to replace former public protector Thuli Madonsela, had said in 2016 that Malunga, who was born in Zimbabwe, did not meet the requirements for top-secret security clearance due to his status as a naturalised citizen.

Mkhwebane and her delegation, which included Malunga, left the committee meeting before the DA’s submission.

In a detailed submission to the committee DA chief whip John Steenhuisen sought to highlight some of the damning court rulings against Mkhwebane, including one on the Absa-Bankorp report.

Earlier in 2018‚ the High Court in Pretoria set aside the remedial action contained in the controversial report and ordered Mkhwebane to pay 15% of the Reserve Bank’s costs in her personal capacity.

Mkhwebane has since approached the Supreme Court of Appeal to overturn the personal costs order.

Motshekga said the committee would wait for Mkhwebane’s response before deciding on the way forward.

The public protector may be removed from office for various reasons including misconduct, incapacity and incompetence. It would require the backing of at least two-thirds of MPs.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za