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Johannesburg - There are no plans to “clip the wings” of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. But Justice Minister Michael Masutha wants her office to stop taking on investigations that could be handled by other watchdog agencies.
Addressing a pre-budget briefing on the justice and constitutional development part of his portfolio on Tuesday, Masutha said because of limited resources, Madonsela’s office should co-operate and work more closely with other Chapter Nine bodies like the SA Human Rights Commission (HRC) and Public Service Commission (PSC).
On Tuesday, Madonsela’s office rubbished the claims, saying the office had – as far as she knew – “never taken an investigation where a watchdog with an equal jurisdiction and remedial powers could be approached to take on the matter”.
Speaking through her spokesman, Oupa Segalwe, Madonsela said in many cases her office had referred matters to other institutions that had rejected and sent them back.
“With regard to the SIU (Special Investigating Unit), which is not even a constitutional body, we have evidence of referrals even when there is no proclamation as yet, or an existing proclamation does not extend to the issue or timeline to be investigated,” said Madonsela.
She cited the KwaZulu-Natal Treasury matter where the office waited from October last year for a proclamation.
The SIU was only officially authorised to investigate the provincial Treasury last week for allegedly misspending large quantities of taxpayer’s money.
The body is set to investigate irregular expenditure on several provincial festivals, including the Commemorating Prisoners of War – St Helena event, the Durban International North Sea Jazz Festival and the Kwa-Zulu Natal Sharks Board.
Last week, it was reported how ANC MPs on Parliament’s justice portfolio committee accused Madonsela of political posturing, with some suggesting that her powers be reviewed. Committee chairman Mathole Motshekga told the meeting that some Chapter Nine institutions were duplicating each others’ work, as a result adding more work to the public protector’s already excessive caseload. Madonsela had pleaded for more resources when she came before the committee saying her office’s budget of just less than R199 million was insufficient to deal with their workload.
In his budget, Masutha said the department has allocated R2.1 billion for public entities and Chapter Nine institutions that fall within the Department of Justice and Correctional Services bureaucracy, which includes the public protector.
“The public protector’s mandate is defined in the Constitution and she’s perfectly entitled to execute her mandate and I am not aware of any efforts from any source to impede her in anyway to discharge her mandate. In her case, the institution of the public protector accounts to the National Assembly,” said Masutha.
He said to deal with the constraints in her office Madonsela would require more “synergy and improving collaboration and reducing duplication”.
His deputy John Jeffery echoed his sentiments saying the mandate of public protector is broad and it needs to be (broad). “So I don’t think there’s any question of limiting the (public protector’s) scope. The issue as the minister said is how you make the best use of your resources. I’m also not aware of any approach to clip the public protectors’ wings,” said Jeffery.
He said the department doesn’t have enough money to do all the things it would like to do. “That (also) applies to the department of justice, it applies to the other Chapter Nines like the SA Human Rights Commission and it applies to the public protector. The budget of the public protector has increased quite substantially over the last couple of years so that needs to be taken into account,” said Jeffery.
Jeffery said another issue with the public protector was the “overlap” with institutions like the PSC where public servants go to the Madonsela’s office “when in fact the Public Service Commission is the body they should go to when there are complaints or disputes”.
This week Corruption Watch said comments by ANC MPs showed signs of “disrespect” for a “crucial anti-corruption body”.
Executive director David Lewis said in a statement: “There are disturbing signs of disrespect for this office, and we will do all in our power as a civil society organisation to protect it.” .
Retired Gauteng Judge President Bernard Ngoepe said disrespect for institutions created by the Constitution was impeding South Africa from moving forward: “How come that, in a country like this, we undermine and disrespect, for example, decisions and the post of the public protector?
“We need to have a culture in terms of which we respect the Constitution and those institutions which have been created by the Constitution...” he said. – Additional reporting by Sapa