Justice Minister Michael Masutha told reporters: “The public protector may be approaching issues in ways that other people might not be very happy with and so on. That is democracy in the works, things get said in the media which not all of us are particularly happy with.
“She accounts to the assembly, she reports to the assembly and it is up to the assembly to deal with some of those issues.”
Masutha denied that the government planned to alter Madonsela’s mandate – a step which would necessitate a constitutional amendment – in the wake of remarks by justice portfolio committee chairman Mathole Motshekga that there was a need to review it.
“I don’t think that the insinuation that this is a backdoor attempt to clip the public protector’s wings is well-placed,” he said when asked to explain the intent.
“She is perfectly entitled to exercise her mandate. I am not aware of any efforts to impede her in any way.”
Instead, he said, government wanted Madonsela to avoid wasting resources by taking on investigations into maladministration and corruption that was, or could have been, handled by other watchdog agencies.
As Motshekga did 10 days ago, he cited the recommendations of the Kader Asmal report on “Chapter Nine” institutions in response to Madonsela’s remarks that her office’s budget of just under R199 million was woefully inadequate for the caseload it handled.
“Parts of that report have been implemented but I don’t think that work was completed because there are still other issues… to be resolved and one of them is going on the whole question of synergy, improving collaboration, reducing duplication,” Masutha said ahead of the budget vote speech to the National Assembly.
Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery faulted Madonsela for focusing on high profile cases and failing to provide the justice ministry with feed-back outlining the main trends in maladministration evidenced in the roughly 24,642 reports her office completed last year.
“What were they about? Do any of you know?” he asked.
“What is important is we start getting reports on those. It is only a few high profile ones that one sees. What we need to start seeing is the systematic proposals from the public protector’s office on what we can do to combat maladministration and service delivery.”
He added that in overseeing the work of Madonsela’s office he hoped that the National Assembly would focus on how she could avoid overlapping with other bodies, such as the Public Service Commission.
“The mandate needs to be broad. The issue is how do you make best use of your resources to ensure maximum impact.”
Madonsela’s relationship with the portfolio committee has soured in recent years as she clashed with MPs, including Jeffery, over the extent of her autonomy.
Earlier this month, she was lambasted by ANC members on the committee for “political posturing”.
Madonsela in turn complained to the committee that government departments ignored her findings and that her budget was strained by rising litigation costs as ministers challenged her.
Madonsela is awaiting a response from President Jacob Zuma on her report on the security upgrades at his Nkandla homestead, which stated that he had derived undue benefit from the R246 million cost to the public purse and should repay some of it.
Zuma scorned the suggestion in remarks at campaign rallies ahead of the May elections, and has said he would respond once he had received the findings of the Special Investigating Unit on the same matter.
The SIU revealed last week that its report would be delayed as its members were only given access to the president’s home last week, more than six months after the probe began.