Cape Town - The Parliamentary committee investigating suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness for office faces further delays after being forced to revise its programme again after Mkhwebane was booked off sick by a doctor.
Instead of the expected hearings, the committee on Thursday discussed correspondence received and considered the revised committee programme.
Mkhwebane emailed committee chairperson Qubudile Dyantyi (ANC) earlier in the week to say she had been booked off by the doctor and offered to share the medical certificate with him.
Dyantyi requested and got the certificate and on Thursday told the committee that as a result she would only resume testimony on March 28.
Dyantyi said that this postponement was a further risk as the Office of the Public Protector (PPSA) had previously notified the committee of its budgetary constraints.
It had said it would not be in a position to pay for Mkhwebane’s legal counsel beyond March 31 due to a lack of funds. It also said its work was suffering because of expenses related to the inquiry.
The committee resolved that due to the days lost and the programme extension that this had forced, urgent intervention was required to address the funding matter.
The committee said it was aware that the Constitutional Court had ruled that Mkhwebane was entitled to legal representation at the hearings. It noted, however, that the court did not rule that the PPSA or Parliament was responsible for funding those costs.
Dyantyi said: “We are the last people who can put the PPSA in an unfunded expenditure. However, this might affect the work of the committee, but it is not really our space to intervene.”
He said Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, the speaker or justice and correctional services minister should be approached on the matter.
As a result, the committee, which was set up on March 16, 2021, and was meant to conclude its work by the end of April, has lost a further three days of hearings – yesterday, today and Monday. It is now expected to conclude its work towards the end of May.
Dyantyi said the committee would have to work “flat out” to complete its work on time, and this meant that committee members would not be joining the rest of their parliamentary colleagues on their recess next month.
During the discussions, members were of the view that the last parts of Mkhwebane’s affidavit could not be delayed any further and should be handed to the committee by today, as per a previous agreement.
Committee member Kevin Mileham (DA) suggested that to save time the committee should ask for the closing arguments to be delivered in writing to the committee.
In response to this suggestion, the committee decided to reduce the number of days set aside for closing arguments by providing the committee with written heads of arguments.
The committee said any new witnesses Mkhwebane might want to call at this stage would have to provide written affidavits.