Cape Town - There’s a race against the clock to find suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane a new legal team before the end of May deadline for Parliament’s Committee for Section 194 Inquiry into her fitness to hold office.
The committee was adjourned indefinitely yesterday after Mkhwebane again turned up without a lawyer to represent her and with a plea to the Office of the Public Protector (PPSA) to “speedily” appoint another attorney to represent her.
Parliament’s legal adviser, Fatima Ebrahim, told the committee that Mkhwebane’s attorneys of record at the inquiry, Seanego Attorneys, had said that “for professional reasons” they no longer acted for Mkhwebane.
Seanego also said that because Mkhwebane had not waived attorney client privilege with them, they were unable to tell the committee exactly what these reasons were.
Meanwhile, Ebrahim had also asked the PPSA to ask the state attorney for help after a letter from RMT Attorneys, who act on behalf of Mkhwebane in a related litigation, had indicated that she had no objection to being represented by the state attorney.
However, the office of the solicitor-general had responded to this request and said their office could not act for Mkhwebane due to a conflict of interest.
However, they would be happy to help source a private lawyer for her.
Committee chairperson Qubudile Dyantyi said the committee was in “back room” discussions with the solicitor-general to source new lawyers for Mkhwebane and that the inquiry could only continue after that had happened.
Last week during a meeting of Parliament’s programming committee, Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula issued an ultimatum to the inquiry to either meet its deadline for the end of May or collapse the process, leaving Mkhwebane without a conclusion to her case.
Yesterday Dyantyi said: “This process needs to be concluded. We equally share the programming committee’s sense of urgency.”
Committee members were split, with some arguing that Mkhwebane be given time to find the legal assistance of her choice before the process could continue and others accusing her of using delaying tactics to stretch out the matter.
Mkhwebane’s non-renewable seven-year term as public protector ends in October.
If her term ends before the impeachment enquiry is completed, Parliament will no longer have the power to hold her accountable.