The Democratic Alliance and lobby group the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) have accused Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane of failing to discharge her constitutional duties and wilfully ignoring crucial information when she investigated the controversial Estina Vrede Dairy Project.
The DA has accused Mkhwebane of whitewashing the role of former Free State premier Ace Magashule and former agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane in orchestrating the R442 million project and ignoring the involvement of the Gupta family and how they benefited from the project.
Mkwebane in turn attacked the DA, saying the application was “steeped in politics” and part of the party’s personal campaign aimed at getting rid of her.
Legal argument commenced in the High Court in Pretoria today where the DA and Casac are seeking to set aside Mkhwebane’s February 2018 report on the project.
They also want the court to declare that Mkhwebane failed in her constitutional and statutory duties by not investigating the DA’s complaints about suspected misconduct and abuses of power in the project properly or at all.
The DA, which described Mkhwebane’s alleged dereliction of duty as “especially egregious”, is also seeking a personal punitive costs order against Mkwebane.
Counsel for the DA, Janice Bleazavel, argued that Mkwebane had a duty to investigate all complaints submitted to her office, but failed to investigate one of the DA’s complaints about the role of the Free State government; Magashule and Zwane in the implementation of the project; and who the true beneficiaries of the project were, notwithstanding prima facie evidence in the public domain that Estina was in fact managed by the Gupta family.
She argued that Mkhwebane had ignored a National Treasury report that found serious irregularities in the project and recommended that disciplinary action be taken against the head of the Free State’s agriculture department and chief financial officer – a recommendation subsequently ignored by the provincial government.
In addition, Mkhwebane also materially altered the findings and disciplinary action recommended by her predecessor Thuli Mandonsela in her preliminary report about the project by removing all references to irregular and fruitless expenditure, inflated prices and the officials and political officers involved.
Bleazavel argued that the findings in Mkhwebane’s report were irrational, arbitrary and informed by mistakes of law and the remedial action was inappropriate and ineffective, as it tasked two of the key officials implicated in the very impropriety and corruption surrounding the project with taking disciplinary action against unspecified officials.
The application continues.