Let's Think

Public Protector: Zuma and DA should hang their heads in shame

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The new Public Protector (PP), adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane, has received a hospital pass from President Jacob Zuma and the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Both have illustrated that for them, own interest and political point-scoring take precedence over accepted judicial principles and best practice.

The president, by insisting that the investigations of the present PP, Thuli Madonsela into allegations of so-called state capture should be deferred to adv. Mkhwebane, casts a suspicion over her as being biased in his favour.

The DA in turn, accused her of having been a spy without revealing their evidence or sources and then expecting her to prove her ‘innocence’. This is a complete reversal of normal judicial processes. How is an accused supposed to defend her- or himself without knowing the details of the accusation?

President Zuma, on the other hand, tries to turn what is an investigation into a court case of sorts, complete with cross examination, which might cause the need for another round of questions by the PP.

Not only does this give the investigation an air of indeed being a court case, and probably in his clear attempt to play for time cast him in the role of the ‘accused’ –    and one who asks the presiding ‘judge’ in effect to recuse herself.

As constitutional expert Marinus Wiechers noted in an article in MoneyWeb last week, President Zuma indicated he might try to interdict her from publishing a provisional report about her investigation into state capture.

As the Nkandla investigation has shown, the time for a court case – if needed – comes after the PP has completed her investigations and made recommendations.

No-win situation

With the pressure from the DA to prove that she is not in the pocket of Zuma and his support structures in the state security community, and with President Zuma implying that he is more comfortable with her than with her fiercely independent predecessor, adv. Mkhwebane is placed in a no-win situation.

Whatever her findings and recommendations in future, one of the two sides will be poised to say: “We told you so, she is biased.”

And the state capture issue will come into play, since, with the time left to her in the job, Madonsela could at best only deliver a preliminary report.

The dilemma Mkhwebane faces was well illustrated when, prior to formally taking office, she said she would prioritise cases of ordinary South Africans and deal with the backlogs in her new office.

It was immediately interpreted in some circles as an indication that she will put the state capture investigation on the ‘back burner’. That is not what she said.

Approach should be welcomed

If anything, her declared approach should be welcomed amid the growing evidence that ordinary citizens’ loss of faith in the state is creating a revolutionary atmosphere in the country.

If anything, she has indicated that attention to the problem of “state capture” might in fact be broadened. As has become clear in recent times, it is a problem that is not confined to central government and national state-owned enterprises.

In some of the local governments which the DA succeeded in taking over in the August elections, a picture has emerged that tells the story of rampant state capture at that level of government.

In her ‘priority statement’ Mkhwebane said, among other things, she wanted to empower people to hold their local government councillors accountable, and that she is concerned about the Auditor-General’s findings on unauthorised or irregular expenditure, especially at that level. She wants to make sure that the lives of ordinary South Africans are improved.

DA jumped the gun

We think the DA shamelessly jumped the gun to condemn Mkhwebane before she has had an opportunity to prove herself. Even if she were a representative of the State Security Agency at the South African embassy in China, as the DA alleges, she might have been doing an honourable job.

From my own experience as a foreign correspondence in the US in the late 1970s I know that it is a common and acceptable practice for intelligence representatives – to be distinguished from ‘spies’ – to be stationed at embassies. Their function is to deliver professionally interpreted information reports to their respective governments to help ensure informed conduct of bilateral relations.

Towards the final years of the apartheid government, these functionaries did a professional job in getting the message across that the regime could not expect any international support unless it embarked on a programme of reform.

Judged on her first major public statement, adv. Mkhwebane is in touch with what is happening on the ground in South Africa. If she does indeed have some intelligence background and experience, it could be standing her in good stead.

By undermining the public’s trust in the integrity of a key state institution, on what seems to be slim evidence and going into premature confrontation with the new PP, the DA makes itself guilty of irresponsible behaviour in its over-eagerness to score cheap political points.

 

by Piet Coetzer

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