Public protector nominees feel the heat

IN CHARGE: Committee chairwoman Makhosi Khoza speaks during at-times heated interviews in Cape Town yesterday with candidates to be the new public protector. Picture: RUVAN BOSHOFF
IN CHARGE: Committee chairwoman Makhosi Khoza speaks during at-times heated interviews in Cape Town yesterday with candidates to be the new public protector. Picture: RUVAN BOSHOFF

Members of parliament sitting on the ad-hoc committee to appoint a new public protector grilled candidates harshly yesterday, focusing on the skeletons in their closets.

The gruelling interview schedule resulted in some of the 14 candidates waiting more than 12 hours for their turn before the committee.

Former Port Elizabeth resident Professor Narnia Bohler-Muller had her disciplinary record raised by ANC MP Bongani Bongo.

He said that the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University had written outlining that she had been found guilty of disciplinary offences which she had not declared.

Bohler-Muller said the infractions related to an incident in which she had submitted a sick certificate for one day to the wrong person.

There had also been an ethical issue raised after she had agreed to help a PhD student edit his thesis.

She withdrew the offer the following day fearing ethical issues, but the student had reported her.

Bohler-Muller said she was concerned that the university had written to the committee even though the findings of the disciplinary hearing had said that her integrity had not been impacted and the incidents had been removed from her record three years ago.

Last night, in scenes reminiscent of public protector Thuli Madonsela’s running battles with parliament, one of the candidates, Kajaal Ramjathan-Keogh, took on ANC MPs who asked about her role in the Omar al-Bashir matter.

Ramjathan-Keogh is the head of the Southern African Legal Centre, the NGO which took the government to court last year for its failure to arrest Sudanese leader al-Bashir while he was in South Africa. The matter is set to be heard in the Constitutional Court.

Ramjathan-Keogh went head to head with ANC MPs who grilled her about the centre’s objectives and funding, implying that it was foreigncontrolled and that the case had impacted on national unity and that the organisation was foreign funded.

She was also asked about how legal costs were paid. RamjathanKeogh said the original al-Bashir case had not cost the centre a cent, but the government’s subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Constitutional Court had forced the centre to defend the matter at a cost.

Angrily responding to claims of foreign control, she said: “I take deep offence. SALC is not foreigncontrolled. I will repeat that. SALC is not foreign-controlled.”

The ACDP’s Steve Swart said the response of the committee was similar to that seen over Nkandla.

He later argued that some comments be withdrawn because “no other candidate here today has been treated this way”.

Earlier, with Advocate Michael Mthembu the first to face the MPs, DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach fired the first salvo. She asked if it was correct that Mthembu had two civil judgments against him, one in favour of Nedbank and one in favour of the SA Revenue Services for quite significant amounts.

Mthembu said he was not aware of any matter involving SARS.

On the Nedbank matter, Mthembu said he had taken a loan and failed to service it and the bank had repossessed a building.

Later, Judge Siraj Desai lost his cool when MPs referenced the “Mumbai incident” in which he was accused of rape on a working visit to the city in 2004.

Desai said the charge had been withdrawn by his accuser.

Questioned by EFF MP Floyd Shivambu, Desai admitted that he had reacted emotionally to the line of questioning.

In two later shocks, it was revealed that one candidate lacked security clearance and another was forced to admit – after much dodging – that she was an ANC member.

The security clearance matter concerned a letter from the State Security Agency that deputy public protector Advocate Kevin Malunga did not have the requisite security clearance to follow in Thuli Madonsela’s footsteps.

The matter was to be cleared up with him later.

And Advocate Nonokosi Cetywayo, a favourite with ANC members of the committee, was exposed as an ANC member by ACDP MP Steve Swart and the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu after initially claiming she was “not an active ANC member”.

Committee chairwoman Makhosi Khoza and Bongo claimed that her ANC membership was not a problem, a point loudly disputed by opposition MPs.

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