Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said her probe into the Free State agriculture department revealed that officials acted unlawfully. Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Cape Town - Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on Tuesday said her investigation into the Free State agriculture department focused only on issues of maladministration, which revealed that the head of the department and other officials acted unlawfully.

She made her remarks before Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services amid allegations that she failed to probe the role of former Mines Minister Mosobenzi Zwane and outgoing Free State Premier Ace Magashule in the Gupta-linked Vrede Diary Farm project.

Reports suggest that the millions of rand meant for the empowerment of local farmers were siphoned off for the benefit of the Guptas allegedly with the connivance of Magashule and Zwane.

At least eight suspects have appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate's court last month in connection with the money. 

The committee decided to call Mkhwebane following comments she made about not having the capacity or financial resources to investigate information relating to the GuptaLeaks.

Mkhwebane, who said in her interview for the job of Public Protector that she would look out for the poor, came under a barrage of criticism for not speaking to the intended poor beneficiaries of the botched project.

The Public Protector was asked why invoices showing that millions were spent on scarves did not cause her to look further than just the admin anomalies she probed. 

Former state prosecutor and now DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach noted that the scarfs cost more than a R1 000, which said was more than some poor people earned in a month.

Mkhwebane said the report was already complete when she assumed office and all she did was to finalise it. She also said it was also not legally possible to reopen the matter.

She also said some of the issues she was being asked about were part of the state capture commission of inquiry which meant they were "sub judice" - something MPs disputed because there was a precedence that the public's right to know outweighed such considerations.

Although Mkhwebane admitted her office received the emails dubbed "Gupta leaks" she said: “We had to run our own investigation”. She also said the investigation was hampered by a lack of funds.

“We don’t just write or take information from the media and include that information in the report because we can be accused of using information being used in the media, you have to go and do your own investigation and come up with the information that even if taken to court, I would be able to defend.”

The hearings were disrupted for a few minutes when members of the Black First Land First group raised posters in a silent protest. The posters read: "We want state capture inquiry, #hands off Mkwebane". The protestors were, however, quickly removed by security.

The matter continues.

African News Agency/ANA