Public protector uses social media to announce status of probes
Move castigated by observors who accuse her of double standards
In another unconventional move, public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane took to social media on Thursday to say that her investigation into President Cyril Ramaphosa was at an "advanced stage".
But unlike her post on Monday, in which she announced that public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan was implicated in her probe into the so-called rogue unit at the SA Revenue Service, she fell short of confirming that she had served Ramaphosa with a similar notice.
Business Day understands that Mkhwebane has privately issued Ramaphosa with such a notice, saying her investigation is into whether he deliberately misled parliament about a R500,000 donation for his ANC election campaign from corruption accused company Bosasa’s CEO Gavin Watson.
Usually those who are implicated in her probes are offered an opportunity to respond before findings are made public, which was not afforded to Gordhan. Her office said they had done that to counter what it called the minister’s own media campaign against Mkhwebane.
In the wake of speculation on whether or not she has finalized her report on the Bosasa investigation involving the president, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has clarified that the matter in question is still ongoing and is not yet at a reporting stage.
"The president and other ministers have conducted themselves well during the public protector’s investigation of their alleged conduct," her spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, said. "The public protector has had to make the announcement in anticipation of the usual media onslaught that follows any development in her investigations concerning minister Gordhan."
Lawson Naidoo of the Centre for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, said that argument was problematic and the protector should treat everyone the same way.
"She must have a consistent approach and demonstrate that she acts without fear or favour."
The public protector is manifestly under significant pressure, with the Constitutional Court yet to rule on whether she abused her office in her discredited Reserve Bank/Absa investigation.
The high court in Pretoria recently set aside her investigation into the Gupta-linked Estina dairy project scandal as unconstitutional and invalid, effectively finding that she failed to do her job by not properly investigating evidence of possible wrongdoing by then Free State premier Ace Magashule and former agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.
Mkhwebane on Thursday posted a 33-second video on YouTube entitled "PP: Bosasa investigation ongoing, not yet at a reporting stage".
She said she was doing that in response to media inquiries and allegations that she had finished her probe.
"I would want to put it on record that the investigation is at an advanced stage and the report is not yet ready, so I will announce when that time comes."
Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko has refused to comment on whether Ramaphosa had received a notice, which would give him 10 days to answer to the findings made against him.
"We are not commenting. The public protector’s office is the appropriate body to respond," she said.
Constitutional law expert Phephelaphi Dube says Mkhwebane’s use of social media to pronounce on investigations is "unprecedented".
"The section 7(9) notice in and of itself is nothing unusual as it’s simply a procedural step to afford implicated individuals room to respond to the allegations being investigated.
"However, releasing the videos on social media and even before alerting Gordhan and his lawyers is an unprecedented step," she said.