New protector vows to do things differently

Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane the new Public Protector. File photo Picture: MOELETSI MABE
Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane the new Public Protector. File photo

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane assured parliament’s justice portfolio committee yesterday that she would be doing things differently, promising during her maiden speech to do away with donor funding, consultants and even former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s now famous report-naming conventions.

The ANC-dominated committee appeared to favour her approach, with chairman Mathole Motshekga saying he liked her “refreshing” approach to the task at hand.

Mkhwebane was in parliament to present the organisation’s 2015-16 annual report. She told MPs she would focus on the backlog of cases, but highprofile cases like the state capture report would still be a priority.

At the top of the list of questions for the public protector was, however, the whereabouts of the state capture report and questions about its release.

DA MP Werner Horn said that as the complainant, his party had a right to access the document.

But Mkhwebane said the matter was before the courts and refused to even comment on the covering letter, saying it constituted part of the file.

She said it was being kept in a safe in the office of senior staffer Stoffel Fourie.

She said she would be filing an answering affidavit in the court matter by tomorrow.

Speaking after the meeting, she said should the court rule that the report be made public, it would be published as normal.

Mkhwebane told the committee her office faced several challenges, chiefly financing.

Many MPs were appalled to discover that the public protector’s office had received donor funding from USAid totalling $500 000 (R6.9-million), saying this threatened the of fice’s independence.

NFP MP Sibusiso Mncwabe said “international donors are not faithful friends of developing countries” and could threaten the country’s sovereignty.

Several ANC MPs agreed.

Mkhwebane, who said she agreed on issues of sovereignty, vowed that her office would no longer make use of donor funding but urged the committee to support her office in finding the funds it desperately needed.

“It’s a thing of the past,” she said.

“Coming from my background – it’s no secret that I worked at the State Security Agency – I know the implications of [international donor funding].”

ANC MP Bongani Bongo raised concerns that Madonsela’s state capture report had been prepared by a consultant, particularly in the light of irregular expenditure of R5.5-million for consultants highlighted in the annual report.

The public protector’s office spent R7-million on consultants last year – much of it for litigation costs, IT support and preparing financial statements.

Mkhwebane said she understood that only one senior investigator from her office had worked on the state capture report, and that Pricewaterhouse- Coopers and some academics had been used as consultants.

She warned MPs that the audit for her office was unlikely to be a clean one, because initial briefings had revealed that consultants were still being used in the office and unfunded posts still being filled.

However, she promised to do away with their use completely.

She also promised to change Madonsela’s now famous naming conventions for reports after Bongo raised his concerns about them, and said she, too, did not like referring to the “state capture investigation” as such.

Mkhwebane also revealed that she had only met Madonsela for about 20 minutes on her last day, as she had been preparing for her final media conference.

Mkhwebane said she had not received a proper handover report from Madonsela.

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