Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Parliament’s justice committee has rejected a request by the DA to speed up the process of removing public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane from office.

The DA and other opposition parties have been pushing for parliament to remove Mkhwebane 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.

Committee chair Madipoane Mothapo said it would hold off any process to remove the public protector pending the conclusion of related court matters.

In its push to have Mkhwebane removed from office, the DA cites the damning court rulings against her, including one on the Absa-Bankorp report. In her report, Mkhwebane ordered the Special Investigating Unit to reopen its earlier investigation into the lifeboat granted to Bankorp “in order to recover misappropriated public funds unlawfully given to Absa Bank in the amount of R1.125bn”.

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. In July, the Constitutional Court granted Mkhwebane direct access to challenge the constitutionality of the personal costs order made against her. The matter was heard in November and judgment was reserved.

Earlier in 2018, the DA and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) brought an application in the high court in Pretoria to have Mkhwebane’s report on the Gupta-linked Vrede dairy farm scandal in the Free State declared unconstitutional and invalid. 

The DA labelled the report a whitewash saying Mkhwebane had failed to investigate politicians implicated in the debacle.

During Wednesday’s justice portfolio committee meeting, the majority of MPs agreed that it would be premature to begin a parallel process to the court process.

“The committee agreed on the proposal that it was premature to institute an investigation into the fitness of the public protector to hold office,” Mothapo said.

DA MP James Selfe, who voted against the proposal, said ANC MPs were reluctant to investigate the public protector to avoid any controversy ahead of the general elections in 2019. Selfe said the DA would await the conclusion of the court processes before resuscitating the matter [to remove Mkhwebane] in the committee.

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.

Earlier in 2018, in her written submission to the committee in response to the calls by the DA, Mkhwebane stated that efforts to remove her were unconstitutional, and called for some MPs who had been openly "hostile" towards her to recuse themselves from deliberations on the matter.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za