Mkhwebane warns officials to cooperate on Covid-19 matters, or else

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: Gallo Images

The office of the public protector said that efforts to ‘deal expeditiously with Covid-19-related matters’ has been met ‘with some degree of resistance’ from executive members and senior government officials. 

Public Protector (PP) Busisiwe Mkhwebane has renewed calls for officials to cooperate with her office’s investigations, after hitting a number of dead ends with officials failing to respond to information requests. 

The office of the public protector said on Wednesday that efforts to “deal expeditiously with Covid-19-related matters” has been met “with some degree of resistance” from executive members and senior government officials. 

Investigations involve, among other issues, the alleged irregular procurement of goods and services. 

Mkhwebane said officials were resisting cooperation with the office of the PP, citing that they have already provided information to other institutions, such as the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) and the Auditor-General of South Africa (Agsa). 

She explained that unlike the PP, the SIU’s investigations are brought on by presidential proclamations. The SIU’s outcomes are reported back to the president, unlike the PP, where all information is made public, except under “special circumstances”. 

She added that Agsa audits state performance, financial management and policy compliance. 

The information gathered by the SIU, Agsa and the PP complement and rely on each other. 

“Officials cannot cherry-pick which institutions they want to account to. Answering questions from one institution is not a bulwark against accounting to another,” Mkhwebane said. 

And, according to the Constitution, no person or organ of state is allowed to interfere with the functioning of the PP. 

If this takes place, Mkhwebane warned that subpoenas will be issued. 

The Public Protector Act Section 7(4)(a) and 7(5) allows the PP to direct any person to submit an affidavit or appear before her to give evidence or produce any document that is relevant to an investigation. 

The person may also be examined by Mkhwebane. 

Section 11 of the Act explains that anyone who refuses to comply will be issued a fine not exceeding R40,000, or imprisoned for a maximum of 12 months, or both. 

(Compiled by Nica Richards)

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