Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane (centre). Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane (centre). Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has accused President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers of “perpetuating unnecessary litigation through the media”.

Mkhwebane was speaking to reporters on Wednesday at the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, where she met speaker Nontembeko Boyce and the institution’s strategic leadership about pursuing closer co-operation with provincial leaders and committees.

“It’s so unfortunate that the ... president’s lawyers are litigating through the media. It’s a challenge for us as an institution that they shouldn’t be perpetuating this unnecessary ligation through the media,” she said.

Mkhwebane was responding to a question on accusations made by Ramaphosa’s lawyers that she had unlawfully used information contained in a report by the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) to make adverse findings on Ramaphosa’s ANC election campaign funding.

Ramaphosa has described Mkhwebane’s report on his campaign funding as legally and factually flawed and is challenging its validity in the high court in Pretoria.

In a letter sent to lawyers for the FIC last week, Ramaphosa’s attorney Peter Harris argued that Mkhwebane had violated the FIC Act by using the intelligence it provided to her office as evidence in her report on the CR17 campaign’s funding. This was despite an explicit statement by the FIC director, Xolisile Khanyile, that this information was “not evidence and is to be used for intelligence purposes only”. 

“The public protector’s reliance on the information contained in the FIC report as evidence is a clear contravention of the condition imposed by the FIC director in terms of section 40(3) of the act,” Harris said, adding that this amounted to a clear “misuse” of FIC information.

Mkhwebane said on Wednesday that her office would address those issues when it prepares its response to the court. “We will present our position as far as that is concerned and it’s a matter of law.” 

When asked if she would meet Ramaphosa to discuss the “ligation through the media”, she said, “Sometimes letters are very cold. Sometimes it is good for us to just sit down and engage on things that are very important.

“As a constitutional institution, we are here to support and strengthen constitutional democracy. We are not here to be antagonistic towards government.”

The public protector also took a swipe at the media, saying journalists needed to focus more on issues of good governance and transparency.

“I think for the journalists, they need to be focusing on what the law is saying as far as the conduct of our leaders and the issues of good governance and transparency, instead of us focusing on this issue of litigation through the media.”

Asked about the possibility of an investigation by parliament into her fitness to hold office, Mkhwebane said: “I will leave that to the speaker of parliament to comment, but what I have done as the public protector is that until such time I am approached officially to comment on process or exercise my rights, that’s when I will be able to respond on that.”

With Karyn Maughan