Pretoria - Western Cape Premier Helen Zille scored a first-round victory against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on Tuesday when the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, interdicted government from acting on Mkhwebane’s findings that Zille violated the executive members' ethics code.
This related to a finding by the public protector in December that Zille had exposed herself to the risk of conflict of interest when she became involved in a programme involving her son, Paul Maree, who is a maths teacher.
Mkhwebane issued a report titled “Allegations of failure to declare interest which amounts to a violation of the executive Ethics Code by the Premier of the Western Cape”.
The public protector called for remedial action against Zille in that her report and findings had to be tabled before the Western Cape Provincial Legislature by February 4. This is so that appropriate action could be taken against Zille.
Zille is of the opinion that the public protector had erred in her findings and she is set on asking the court later this year to review and set aside the report.
She, however, turned to the court on Tuesday to urgently interdict the public protector and government from tabling the report and taking steps against her. The interdict will meanwhile remain in place pending the outcome of the review proceedings.
Zille said in court papers that if the urgent interdict is not granted and the legislature took steps against her, this would render her review application moot as the remedial action would have been implemented.
Neither Mkhwebane nor government filled any opposing papers in the urgent application, neither did any of their legal teams pitch at court.
Counsel for Zille is of the opinion that Mkhwebane was wrong in her findings as there was no conflict of interest when Zille became involved in the programme.
Judge Neil Tuchten, after reading the court papers earlier, immediately agreed to issue the order without the matter being argued in court by Zille’s counsel.
In her affidavit, Zille said the public protector's findings and remedial action are irrational, particular as it is not rationally connected to the information before her.
The allegations against Zille was that she participated in the process of procurement of 150 tablets to be used by her son to teach Mathematics to Khayelitsha learners in 2014.
Zille stated that her son was employed as a Maths teacher at the Western Cape Education Department and he had developed a computer application for teaching maths, under the name of Paper Video.
In September 2014, he approached the principal of the school in Khayelitsha and offered to provide maths workshops during the October holidays, by using the school’s facilities and e-learning technology in the form of laptops and tablets.
After establishing that there were not enough tablets or computers available, he mentioned this to Zille. "He said he will have to reconsider or cancel the workshops….This lack of resources at the schools was of concern to me and I raised it at one of my weekly meeting with the director-general.”
Zille said the latter looked into the matter and the result was that the delivery of the tablets was brought forward by 12 days. The education department made them available to her son to upload the necessary programmes prior to the workshops.
It was used by pupils who attended the maths revision workshops run by her son during the 2014 October holidays.
Zille said after the workshops the tablets were wiped clean and returned to the department. They are now available to pupils as part of the province’s after school e-learning initiatives, including the YEBO project.
“If it had not been for my query and intervention regarding the delivery date, no learner would have obtained the benefit of the tablets and services of my son’s revision teaching…,” Zille said.
She added that there was nothing improper in her conduct to ensure that the delivery of the tablets took place in time for the workshops