Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has responded to potentially disparaging remarks aimed at her earlier on Wednesday from Finance Minister Tito Mboweni.
He said she had a “problem” and he didn’t agree with her findings on his Treasury director-general.
Mboweni’s comments potentially put him on a collision course with President Cyril Ramaphosa after Mboweni announced that the finance ministry would be taking the Public Protector’s recommendation that the Treasury director-general be disciplined on review.
In a media briefing just ahead of his budget speech on Wednesday, Mboweni took a swipe at Mkhwebane, who had found that DG Dondo Mogajane had failed to disclose his criminal record due to a speeding fine in 2011 in his application forms to become director-general.
“I think the Public Protector has a problem. I’m saying this as strongly as I can, knowing full well the office of the public protector is a constitutional structure, but the incumbent has a problem and I hope one day I can have a discussion with the incumbent, without interfering, just to advise,” said Mboweni.
The minister said Mogajane had his “full confidence”.
“She has made a finding that speedy Dondo must be disciplined. I guess if I could take an opinion poll here. Most of you have speeding fines,” Mboweni told journalists.
“The collective view of the ministry of finance is that the findings of the Public Protector are wrong, so I am taking the decision on review and legal counsel have already drafted the affidavit.”
Mkhwebane has now issued a statement in which she expressed “disquiet”, as Mboweni had allegedly attempted to trivialise what she considered a serious matter.
She pointed out that Mogajane had been convicted in court and it was not just a “traffic fine”.
“The conviction ought to have been disclosed, given that the government Z83 form which is used to gather information about prospective employees explicitly probes if applicants have a criminal record, a question to which the applicants are required to respond with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.
“In response to this question, Mr Mogajane replied with a ‘no’ despite having been made aware previously that this kind of conduct amounted to dishonesty on his part,” her statement by spokesperson Oupa Segalwe read.
“Adv Mkhwebane further wishes to emphasise that her finding was based on law and the prevailing rules in the public service. She requests those who have a problem with the requirement that civil servants be vetted prior to their appointment to push for the rules to be changed.”
She added that she was concerned that, given the reports that the minister had “no confidence” in her, and she had made an adverse finding against his DG, her repeated requests for more resources “to bolster her investigative capacity might not bear fruit, much to the detriment of members of the public who do not have the financial muscle to litigate against the state and instead rely on her office to vindicate their rights”.
Mboweni’s comments clashed with that of the presidency, who in a media release said Ramaphosa had decided to institute disciplinary steps against Mogajane and that the power to do so had been delegated to Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor.
The finance minister would then have the authority to implement the outcome of a disciplinary hearing.
In December, Mkhwebane found Mogajane had infringed on his employer’s right to know the facts around his criminal record.
In appointing him, the former minister, Malusi Gigaba, either knew or ought to have known about the failure to disclose the criminal record.
She recommended a review of how recruitment is performed in public service and administration.
She added that the conduct of Gigaba in appointing Mogajane as the director-general of National Treasury was improper and recommended disciplinary action to be taken within 30 days, which has now elapsed.
– Background reporting, African News Agency (ANA)