Barely a year into her tenure, public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane looks set to face a tough parliamentary grilling over her fitness to hold office emanating from the bungled investigation into the CIEX/Bankorp/Sarb matter.
Mkhwebane’s controversial recommendations caused reverberations when she instructed parliament to change the South African Reserve Bank’s (Sarb) mandate to give it a more developmental strategic approach. In the initial stages of the debacle, her spokesperson, Cleopatra Mosana, at some point told the media her boss might have made a “typo”.
Mkhwebane herself backtracked on the matter when both Absa and Sarb argued in court documents she had overstepped her constitutional powers, with the latter successfully appealing against Mkhwebane’s remedial actions.
The Pretoria High Court agreed with the bank and underscored the corrective action she ordered violated the principle of separation of powers.
Yesterday’s decision by the justice and constitutional development committee, which saw ANC’s divisions on display when some party members at first opposed chairperson Mathole Motshekga’s suggestion that the inquiry go ahead, effectively means Mkhwebane becomes the first public protector since the dawn of democracy to have to argue before a parliamentary inquiry why she should not be removed.
Joining her in the hot seat will be her deputy, Kevin Malunga. While MPs are unhappy with allegations that Mkhwebane met with the Presidency and State Security Agency (SSA), Malunga is facing allegations of impropriety for allegedly stopping an investigation involving two municipalities.
A complaint laid against the pair by the DA to speaker Baleka Mbete for misconduct was referred to the committee for processing.
Mkhwebane’s alleged dalliance with the intelligence world came as no surprise, as there were murmurs in the parliamentary corridors during her interview that she was booted out of China, where she worked as an immigration counsellor for the home affairs department after Beijing authorities got hold of the news that she was doubling as a spook while working in that country.
In the past six months, The Citizen heard from highly placed sources within the intelligence community, political parties as well as home affairs that, while they agreed with the public’s right to access information that had a bearing on the public protector, they had no appetite to discuss such a sensitive matter.
The ANC caucus was granted a request to consult among themselves regarding the matter, but they turned around and said they had a change of mind and supported Motshega’s motion. “The study group expressed the [opinion] that the office of the public protector is an important office, and when there is a matter, it is urgent,” said ANC MP Chana Pilane-Majake.
Motshekga stuck to his guns throughout the protracted debacle on whether the committee itself or an ad-hoc committee should deal with the matter. He also declared that when the matter is dealt with, he would have no option but to recuse himself, as Mkhwebane’s remedial actions tasked him and parliament with changing Sarb’s mandate.
“The appointment of the public protector was done by an ad-hoc committee, and therefore an inquiry into the removal should be done by an ad-hoc committee,” Motshekga said before the committee voted to reject the decision to delegate an ad-hoc committee to conduct the inquiry.