Public Protector faces new House rules
Johannesburg - The interactions between the office of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Parliament showed who has the last laugh when it comes to instances of confrontation.
While she was firm in asserting herself and the authority of her office, it proved to be her undoing, especially over the fact that ANC MPs at times did not see eye to eye over matters that concerned her office.
The beginning and end of the year were marked by talks on the removal from office of Mkhwebane.
The calls first surfaced last year after failed attempts by the DA which were at the time thwarted by the governing party.
Then the signs that Parliament would forge ahead with proceedings against her were made certain this month when Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise said the national legislature would consider the DA’s latest request and draft a substantive motion for the removal of Mkhwebane.
This after the National Assembly adopted rules for the removal of the head of Chapter 9 institutions, such as the public protector.
The drafting of these rules came about as the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services considered the request by now DA leader John Steenhuisen (Natasha Mazzone’s predecessor as chief whip) to remove Mkhwebane.
He had on previous occasions during the last term of Parliament unsuccessfully attempted to have the committee institute removal proceedings against Mkhwebane.
But, the ANC-dominated justice portfolio committee decided in December last year to hold off on investigating Mkhwebane pending the official opposition’s application to set aside her report on the Vrede Dairy Farm.
This was ratified by the National Assembly earlier this year.
However, fresh calls for her removal emerged in May this year when the DA again asked Modise for the removal process of Mkhwebane to be resumed after Mkhwebane lost her court case in the Vrede Dairy saga.
When Parliament was reconstituted, Modise told Steenhuisen, then the DA chief whip, that she was seeking advice on the best way to deal with the matter as parliamentary committees were yet to be established.
She later referred the matter to the justice and correctional services portfolio committee.
This did not sit well with Mkhwebane who in July wrote to Modise to complain that there were no rules to remove her and threatened court action.
It was in August when Modise took aim, telling justice committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe to fast-track the process to set up an inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office.
Speaking at the National Assembly’s programme committee, Modise said Parliament would “not be stopped” from going ahead with preparations for a probe into Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office.
This was despite Mkhwebane informing Parliament that no matter what her office did, someone somewhere would always be unhappy.
Her complaint about ministers who attacked her office and her person by accusing her of venturing into politics also did not help.
When the portfolio committee considered Modise’s request, it referred the case to the rules committee, which subsequently drafted the rules.
This month, the Assembly adopted the rules for the removal of the head of a Chapter Nine institution.
In terms of the new rules, an MP can bring a motion with all supporting documents to be referred to a panel which must within 30 days submit its assessment to the National Assembly.
If this is accepted, then a parliamentary committee will institute an inquiry.
If the committee’s report recommends that the Chapter 9 institution head should be removed from office, the National Assembly will decide by a vote on whether to remove the head or not.
Whereas the DA was at the forefront of calls for the removal proceedings against Mkhwebane since she released her report on Bankorp’s apartheid-era bailout in June 2017, court findings had been cited by others as grounds for Mkhwebane’s removal.
This was evident when the Constitutional Court ruled against the public protector in the personal cost order judgment in July.
Some political parties, including the SACP, and civil society organisations have pushed for the parliamentary process to remove Mkhwebane from office to be speeded up.
Asked by Independent Media what her course of action would be now that the rules had been formulated, her spokesperson, Oupa Segwale, said: “She (Mkhwebane) said that she will deal with that matter when she is approached by Parliament.”