The affordable education loan option
* This story has been updated.
Parliament, Cape Town - The row between Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and MPs about the extent of her investigative powers intensified on Tuesday against the backdrop of her adverse findings against IEC chairwoman Pansy Tlakula.
Madonsela faced a barrage of questions on her mandate, partly prompted by her call for a "quiet discussion" on the issue that has bedevilled her relationship with Parliament's justice portfolio committee since last year.
She was briefing the committee on her office's annual report, and seeking support for a request for an additional R35 million in funding from the Treasury.
African National Congress MP Mathole Motshekga asked Madonsela to explain her understanding of "state affairs", and said it was regrettable that after nearly 20 years of its establishment there was still confusion about the role of the office of the Public Protector.
"If we are not clear about that, then we are going to have a problem on money," he said.
Madonsela, who marked four years in her post on Tuesday with three to go, responded that her mandate extended to investigating the state "in its entirety" and that she drew her definition from the Public Finance Management Act.
The question is integral to Tlakula's rejection of Madonsela's findings that her role in renting new headquarters for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was improper and amounted to maladministration.
In a 55-page reply to Madonsela's report leaked to the media, Tlakula claimed that the Public Protector Act gave Madonsela the power to investigate maladministration on the part of the government, but that although the IEC was an organ of state it "does not form part of government".
Parliament has asked for legal advice on how to handle the Protector's report on the matter, with some MPs noting that it was unprecedented partly because it involved two chapter nine institutions.
Madonsela told the committee there was nothing strange about chapter nine institutions overseeing each other.
"It is the first time that I'm hearing that they are excluded from my mandate," she said.
"The Auditor General audits all of us and he is a chapter nine institution."
Turning to Motshekga's wider question, she said it was strange that there had not been confusion about her mandate until last year, although she had tackled the same kind of cases as her predecessors, who were not challenged about their mandate.
"Advocate (Selby) Baqwa was investigating all state affairs. He was investigating at three levels of government and it was never an issue," she said. Baqwa was the first person to hold her post after the office was established in 1995.
"There is nothing new that we have done, not a single thing."
Chapter nine institutions are established in terms of chapter nine of the Constitution to support democracy.
Madonsela handed her report on Tlakula to the Speaker of the National Assembly so he could advise the president whether any steps should be taken.
Parliament set up an ad hoc committee to handle the report, and invited both legal opinion on its standing in the matter and a reply from Tlakula.
Madonsela said she had approached the Speaker as the administrative head of Parliament, leading Democratic Alliance justice spokeswoman Dene Smuts to protest that he was merely "an agent of 400 MPs".
The issue escalated a hostile debate between the committee and the Protector on the extent to which she must answer to the legislature.
It dates back to May when Madonsela objected after Smuts and the ANC charged that her choice of cases had at times been misguided.
At the time, she allowed that the committee had operational oversight over her office, but asserted: "I'm insulated on decisional independence."
On Tuesday, Madonsela invoked more wrath on that score by including a citation in her presentation from the chairman of a British parliamentary committee reminding members that by law they were forbidden from questioning the parliamentary ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, on individual cases.
Smuts told Madonsela the quote was "inapposite in your case". Under the Public Protector Act, matters were plain: "You are accountable to us," she said.
When Madonsela offered to settle their dispute on the interpretation of the act by referring to a booklet from her office, committee chairman Luwellyn Landers asked her not to insult members.
Insiders in Madonsela's office claim political pressure on her has grown since her report on former police commissioner Bheki Cele's role in an irregular lease deal prompted his downfall.
Madonsela is currently working on a much-awaited report on the alleged abuse of public funds in improvements to President Jacob Zuma's private home at Nkandla.