Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Photo: Sizwe Ndingane

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela must not “meddle” in law-making processes, ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga has warned in reminding her that her office answers to Parliament, not the other way around.

Motshekga was responding to reports that the day before the National Assembly passed the Protection of State Information Bill, Madonsela wrote to Speaker Max Sisulu expressing concern that the proposed legislation did not include a public interest defence clause.

Madonsela’s spokeswoman, Kgalalelo Masibi, confirmed earlier that Madonsela had written to Sisulu saying the protector would appeal to President Jacob Zuma to intervene if the bill left Parliament without such a clause.

Her appeal to the National Assembly followed complaints to her office by members of the public and opposition parties, she said.

In a carefully worded statement on Thursday, Motshekga said the ANC commended Madonsela for the “great energy” she had brought to the protector’s office and for carrying out her responsibilities “with due diligence, fearlessness and professionalism”. However, by venturing into legislative terrain, she had “overextended her authority”.

“The public protector’s office has also been quoted in the media as expressing ‘concern’ about the bill and indicating that it would ‘investigate’ (the) absence of a public interest defence in the bill if a complaint was made,” Motshekga said.

“If media reports are correct, then the public protector appears to interfere in Parliament’s legislative process by questioning and threatening to investigate the institution’s legislative decisions.

“The action of the public protector worryingly implies that Parliament is accountable to the office of the public protector, when in fact the opposite is true in terms of the constitution.

“Writing to the Speaker expressing concern on the legislative process or decision is bizarre, as the Speaker cannot be held responsible for or be expected to explain legislative decisions of the (National) Assembly.”

Motshekga suggested that Madonsela send a submission of her own on the bill to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), which was now dealing with it.

The NCOP has referred the bill to an ad hoc committee that is chaired by ANC MP Raseriti Johannes Tau and expected to conclude its work by April.

Tau has said the committee is to seek inputs from members of the public in all provinces, but the focus is to be on hearing what rural communities have to say about the bill. Asked why urban citizens were being sidelined, he said the “nature and level” of the debate about the bill had been “highly, highly elite”.

This is not the first time that Motshekga has warned against interference in the bill’s passage through Parliament.

In a television interview in September, he warned the highest court, the Constitutional Court, to stay out of the fight over the bill.

Speaking to Jeremy Maggs on, Motshekga said it would be a “gross violation” of the separation of powers doctrine if the court were to become involved in the Info Bill battle once Parliament had taken a decision on the matter.

This followed opposition party threats to challenge the constitutionality of the bill.

“If people are defeated in a political arena, they want to substitute the will of the people with the will of the judges. Then we must redefine our democracy and how we want to manage our country,” Motshekga told Maggs.

“(T)there is a doctrine of the separation of powers which clearly demarcates the area where judges operate. We are dealing with the right of a properly elected Parliament to decide which law to make. It is not for judges to decide for Parliament, because that would be a gross violation.”

More recently, Motshekga slammed as “absurd and unhelpful” the DA’s campaign calling on members of the public to flood President Jacob Zuma’s inbox with messages against the bill.

“It is a tragic irony that a leading opposition party in Parliament consistently undermines the parliamentary processes and conducts itself like an overzealous lobby group,” Motshekga said on Thursday.

On November 25, Parliament’s communication service issued a statement urging parties to refrain from “activities or processes not linked to the parliamentary processes” on the Info Bill, including extra-parliamentary actions such as approaching the Constitutional Court to have the bill declared invalid.

Parliament had, however, been silent when, just weeks earlier, the ANC embarked on its own extra-parliamentary process by unilaterally withdrawing the bill from the National Assembly programme and establishing internal committees, ostensibly to “co-ordinate public engagement” on the bill. - Political Bureau