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

The civil society coalition UniteBehind is challenging public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) report.

The review application is another challenge in a long list the public protector is fighting in court. She is also fighting a  challenge to her report on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC presidency campaign donation from corruption-accused Bosasa, and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan’s involvement in the SA Revenue Service’s supposed rogue unit.

The UniteBehind coalition, which is made up of about 20 organisations including Right2Know, Section 27, the Treatment Action Campaign and Sonke Gender Justice, last week submitted its review application on Mkhwebane’s Prasa report, which dealt with issues deferred from her predecessor Thuli Madonsela’s 2015 report titled Derailed.

Madonsela’s report revealed corruption at the state-owned entity under former CEO Lucky Montana and former chairperson Sfiso Buthelezi.

UniteBehind wants the Prasa II report set aside and for a cost order to be made against the public protector. Mkhwebane’s office has filed a notice to oppose the application.

The group called Mkhwebane’s April 2019 Prasa report a “whitewash”. It said the public protector had failed to address the deferred complaints properly and effectively.

“The seriousness of the deferred complaints, and the need for an effective investigation, cannot be doubted,” UniteBehind said.

The deferred complaints centred on allegations of financial mismanagement, procurement irregularities, improper expenditure amounting to billions of rand of public funds, and abuse of office by Montana and former members of the Prasa board, including Buthelezi.

“She failed to have any apparent regard to the investigations and reports that had been conducted since by National Treasury and Prasa, many of which pertain directly to the deferred complaints, in particular the complaints against Sfiso Buthelezi and former Prasa board member Vusi Twala,” UniteBehind said.

“This despite the fact that the public protector was compelled to have this evidence before her as mandated by Derailed’s remedial action.”

The coalition says Mkhwebane did almost nothing to further the investigation and that she did not obtain any new piece of evidence. It said she had only interviewed three new people, none of whom were implicated in the allegations, and appeared to not have issued any subpoenas.

UniteBehind believed the remedial action in the Prasa II report was “wholly inappropriate and ineffective”. It said eight of 11 deferred issues were addressed, albeit superficially, adding that various subsequent reports by the Treasury and Prasa were ignored.

“The public protector has produced a report that can give the public no confidence that the complaints have been properly investigated, that the truth has been uncovered, or at the very least that a concerted and committed effort has been made to uncover the truth,” it said.

The group said the public could have no confidence that those responsible for impropriety and abuse of public office would be held accountable and that the necessary measures would be taken to reform Prasa.  

UniteBehind says Mkhwebane’s investigation and report led to two conclusions: that she was incompetent and incapable of performing the functions of her office effectively; or that she has acted in bad faith and for an ulterior and improper motive.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za