Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Tito Mboweni. Pictures: ESA ALEXANDER/
Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Tito Mboweni. Pictures: ESA ALEXANDER/

Choosing her crusades clearly isn’t public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s strong suit. But as if she weren’t under enough pressure from multiple challenges to her credibility, she will now go head to head with an equally obstreperous adversary — finance minister Tito Mboweni.

Acting on "the collective view" of the National Treasury, Mboweni is taking on review Mkhwebane’s recent finding that his director-general, Dondo Mogajane, is "blatantly dishonest" and should be sanctioned for failing to disclose, when he applied for the DG’s job, that he had paid an admission of guilt fine for speeding in 2011. (This detail is in his file at the department, where he has worked for 20 years.)

It turns out Mogajane’s assistant filled in the job form for him at the eleventh hour, neglecting to mention the criminal record resulting from the fine, and got him to sign it while he was in a meeting.

Mboweni told journalists the DG, whom he has nicknamed "Speedy", has his full confidence. (Few know that Mboweni, too, has a passion for speed and while Reserve Bank governor once crashed his Jaguar on the freeway outside Pretoria.)

Mboweni says his DG’s only failing is that "he is sometimes too Christian" — a reference to the Bible verses that dotted the budget speech.

Mkhwebane is not amused. She accepts Mogajane’s explanation yet concludes that he acted "without integrity" and is "blatantly dishonest", rendering his appointment "improper".

Mboweni finds her conclusion inexplicable. He is challenging Mkhwebane’s report for being arbitrary, irrational, inappropriate and unreasonable — and for harming the Treasury’s reputation.

"While the public protector is empowered to recommend binding remedial action, she is nevertheless constrained to take appropriate remedial action because it is only when her findings are proper and capable of implementation that our constitutional democracy is truly strengthened," Mboweni argues in court papers.

"Her role is eroded when she acts irrationally."