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Protector ‘on shaky ground’

Cape Town - “Anomalies” in Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on the controversial “Sekunjalo contract” to manage South Africa’s fisheries research and patrol fleet have opened her to legal challenge, says the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi. Credit: INLSA

This comes in a letter to Madonsela in which the department says her comments about minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson in her report on the Sekunjalo contract – she recommended that President Jacob Zuma consider disciplinary action against Joemat-Pettersson – were “highly questionable”, “based on several highly prejudiced claims and statements” which were “unfounded”.

The letter, signed by recently appointed director-general Professor Edith Vries, was released in full to the media yesterday.

In her report titled “Docked Vessels” and released on December 5, Madonsela found, among other things, that the conduct of Joemat-Pettersson and the department in allowing the “ill-advised” and “abrupt” handover of the fleet to the SA Navy to be improper and constituting maladministration.

She also found Joemat-Pettersson’s rejection of Madonsela’s request to defer this handover to be an “imprudent act”. “(This) resulted in lack of proper patrols and alleged deterioration of patrol vessels amounting to millions of rand in refurbishment costs and that this amounted to fruitless and wasteful expenditure,” Madonsela found, adding it had constituted improper conduct and maladministration on the minister’s part.

She recommended disciplinary action by Zuma against Joemat-Pettersson for “loss of confidence in the fisheries industry in SA and alleged decimation of fisheries resources in SA and delayed quota allocations due to a lack of appropriate research”.

In her letter, Vries said the department valued Madonsela’s insights into various administrative matters raised by her report and that these were not in dispute and were being attended to.

But the department held a different view on her four allegations against the minister, “none of which have anything to do with the original tender (to manage the fisheries fleet) about which the complaint was laid”, Vries said. She argued that:

“A legal opinion has been secured which confirms that due to the anomalies in the report, the public protector has opened herself to further challenges on the content of her report. We are taking further advice on this matter,” she said.

“In the meantime, we would also like to emphasise that the state of South Africa’s fishing industry is nowhere near as dire as (is) presented in the public protector’s report.”

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