ANC throws its weight behind public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane
ANC MPs rallied to public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and dismissed a request by DA chief whip John Steenhuisen that she should quickly be removed from office.
The National Assembly's justice committee adopted an ANC resolution that it was premature to institute an investigation of Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office and it dismissed Steenhuisen's request.
The matter was put to a vote after about 90 minutes of debate on Wednesday morning, with five MPs voting to dismiss the complaint, while the DA's James Selfe voted otherwise and the EFF abstained. The National Freedom Party's Sibusiso Mncwabe voted with the ANC.
MPs argued that while they respected court rulings against Mkhwebane, those findings were not sufficient reasons to institute an inquiry of her fitness to hold office.
"We are taking it seriously and we respect the courts of law and we respect the judgment in the matter of Absa versus public protector," said ANC MP Gijimani Skosana. "The utterances of the judges in relation to the public protector, we are taking them very seriously … However the judgment on this case and the setting aside of some remedial actions, as serious as it is, we don't think it's enough for us to say based only on this, we should institute an inquiry on the fitness of the public protector."
Skosana said the court findings were not enough for parliament to arrive at the point where it said Mkhwebane was incapable and incompetent and that she conducted herself in an unacceptable manner when doing her work. He said MPs would have to prove the misconduct, incapacity or incompetence beyond reasonable doubt before it could institute an inquiry into Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office.
Steenhuisen wrote to the Speaker, Baleka Mbete, earlier this year requesting an inquiry of Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office.
He cited a number of court findings against the public protector, but mainly relied on a scathing ruling by the High Court in Pretoria in 2017. The court found she grossly over-reached her powers when she recommended that the constitution be amended to alter the mandate of the Reserve Bank. Mkhwebane had given an opinion on allegations of maladministration, corruption, misappropriation of public funds and failure by the government to implement the CIEX report and to recover public funds from Absa.
The court also found that she grossly over-reached her powers when she sought to dictate to parliament how and when legislation should be amended and that she showed a poor understanding both of the law and her own powers in relation to parliament.
Steenhuisen argued that a prima facie case existed for the committee to recommend the commencement of proceedings to remove Mkhwebane from office.
On Wednesday, Selfe said it was appalling for the ANC to reject Steenhuisen's request. He suspected that the governing party was closing ranks ahead of next year's elections and avoiding any controversy that might arise before then.
Selfe said the DA would revive the issue before the committee especially regarding her investigation of the Vrede dairy farm saga, depending on what the court were to find in the matter.
"We believe that there were serious procedural flaws and the public protector failed entirely to take into consideration one very substantive complaint that was made — the report just doesn't deal with it," he said.
Selfe and the EFF's Thilivhali Mulaudzi wanted the committee, at the very least, to invite Mkhwebane to expand on her written submission in which she rejected Steenhuisen's allegations. Their requests were not entertained.