President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday lauded the character of embattled Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, but said he could not comment on the findings of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane against the minister.
Ramaphosa said Gordhan played a critical role in the liberation of South Africa from white minority rule and he had appointed him to a crucial portfolio because of his proven track record.
“He has endured and withstood extreme pressure both under apartheid and during the democratic era,” he said in responding to the parliamentary debate on the presidency budget vote.
But, addressing Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema directly, Ramaphosa said he could not heed any political call to respond publicly to Mkhwebane’s adverse findings.
“If Minister Gordhan or any member of this administration has anything to answer to they must be held accountable. I will be saying to him go and answer to a court of law. But allow that determination to be made by an appropriate judicial institution,” he added.
This came after Malema said Gordhan must be made to step down from his position as minister until he had cleared his name.
Gordhan has approached the High Court for an interdict to halt the implementation of the remedial action ordered by the public protector, pending the outcome of his court challenge of her findings.
Mhkwebane found that Gordhan had unlawfully approved an early retirement payout for former South African Revenue Service (Sars) deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and then proceeded to rehire him part-time.
She instructed the president both to submit, within 30 days, a plan detailing the disciplinary steps he would take against the minister, and that he implement said disciplinary action within 30 days.
Ramaphosa has filed court documents in support of Gordhan’s challenge, submitting that he believed the minister had a bona fide case and also that he found the Public Protector’s instructions to him incoherent.
In a separate report, Mkhwebane has also found that the minister committed maladministration in approving the establishment of an intelligence gathering unit – the so-called rogue unit – within Sars.
In a controversy that has stretched a decade, the unit has been described as illicit though Gordhan insists it was legally constituted and has been vindicated by a number of formal inquiries. The EFF nonetheless took a complaint in this regard to Mkhwebane, resulting in the finding against the minister.
Gordhan has in his court papers described as part of a political campaign against him, and more broadly against those attempting to root out corruption.
Ramaphosa made a call for state law enforcement institutions to be allowed to operate independently and impartially.
“Ours is to give them the space and the resources to do their work,” he told the National Assembly.
“The presidency cannot interfere in any shape or way in the way that these institutions are doing their work.”
He called on all political parties and citizens to support the work of the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture and reiterated that he was prepared to testify before it.
“I am ready to testify before the Zondo commission…. every person is equal before the law.”
– African News Agency (ANA)