The chief whip of the Democratic Alliance (DA), John Steenhuisen, today argued before parliament’s portfolio committee on justice for an inquiry into the conduct of public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane but encountered considerable resistance from its chairperson Mathole Motshekga.
Steenhuisen said there were grounds for an inquiry under section 194 of the Constitution, which allows for the removal of the public protector on the grounds of misconduct, given her conduct and report in the Absa-Bankorp matter.
The report was set aside by the North Gauteng High Court following a challenge by the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) and Mkwebane was ordered to pay 15 percent of the bank’s legal costs in her personal capacity, with her office footing the rest of the bill.
Mkhwebane ordered Absa to repay R1.125 billion for a lifeboat provided to Bankorp by the Reserve Bank during the apartheid era, and went further to call on parliament to consider passing legislation to alter the mandate of the Sarb.
Judge John Murphy noted that Mkhwebane had amended the scope of the investigation without warning the interested parties and had failed in her duty, and thereby inflicted damage on the economy and the reputation of her office.
Steenhuisen recalled that judge had also found that she had grossly exceeded her powers and that the report had immediate and severe consequences, with the local currency shedding value and S&P Global warning that if it were implemented it would downgrade South Africa’s credit rating further.
He said should MPs do nothing to act against her, they would be failing in their duty to protect parliament and the separation of powers, which she attempted to violate by ordering the legislature to alter the mandate of the Sarb.
“If the committee chooses not to do so, and the public protector continues with her cavalier approach to the most basic fundamentals of the law, and this parliament’s role, then the responsibility must shift from her office and to this parliament.”
Steve Swart from the African Christian Democratic Alliance supported Steenhuisen’s call, saying: “If we don’t have an inquiry we would be flouting our oversight duty.”
ANC MP Loyiso Mpumlwana suggested the DA might be seeking Mkhwebane’s removal because of criticism she has leveled at the party, but Steenhuisen dismissed this.
Motshekga replied to his submission by saying many of the country’s judges have made themselves guilty of judicial overreach by ruling on the high number of political cases taken to court, yet they were not hauled before any inquiry for doing so.
He added that he was not in favour of hauling the heads of Chapter 9 institutions before parliamentary inquiries as it risked harming the standing of these in the eyes of the public.
He resolved that he would put Steenhuisen’s submission to Mkhwebane to ask her to respond to it in writing before any further decision is taken.
DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach said this must happen within a set timeframe.
“It cannot be on the never-never.”
– African News Agency (ANA)