Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File picture: Reuters
Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File picture: Reuters

Public Protector fears effect of R58m budget cuts

By Mayibongwe Maqhina Time of article published May 17, 2020

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The Office Office of the Public Protector facing a further R58 million cut from its budget as part of its contribution towards the funding of the Covid-19 fiscal support package.

This was revealed yesterday when the public protector and her team briefed the virtual meeting of the justice and correctional services portfolio committee on their annual performance plans.

Acting chief finance officer Tshiamo Senosi told MPs the National Treasury has informed them that R58m will be cut from their 2020-21 budget.

Senosi said if the budget cut was effected, they would be left with R50m on the goods and services budget. 

"We won't be able to operate effectively," he said. 

Senosi said they would not be able to absorb the projected cut and that has been communicated to the National Treasury.

The projected cut takes place against the backdrop of the office requesting more funding for investigators and beefing up security at regional and provincial offices, among other things.

This comes days after the National Treasury announced the special adjustment budget guidelines which outline the processes it plans to run to table the special budget on 24 June.

The tabling of the special adjustment budget comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the state of national disaster on March 15 to minimise the economic impact of Covid-19 pandemic.

On April 21, Ramaphosa announced the R500 billion fiscal support package and the National Treasury identified funding sources for the package.

According to the National Treasury, of the funding sources for the R500 billion is a R130 billion reprioritisation of the budget.

Briefing the committee, acting CFO Yalekile Lusibale said they planned to complete 50 investigative reports, down from 56 in the last financial year.

"We are realistic in terms of capacity as well as financially and human capacity," Lusibale said.

She also said they planned to conduct 10 dialogues with organs of state, nine public protector roadshows and hold 208 community outreach programmes.

Lusibale said they might not achieve the target on community outreach programmes owing to Covid-19, where there is usually physical contact with the public. 

There was, however, a plan to make use of radio and digital platforms to reach the public, she said.

Briefing the committee, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said due to the lockdown staff had worked remotely at home.

She said they were preparing to be compliant with lockdown regulations in order to allow walk-ins by the public, who now reach their offices through email and phones.

Mkhwebane said they have received 158 new cases during the lockdown and that 16 were procurement related to Covid-19. "It is a serious concern."

She said the relation of procurement regulations was not an invitation for improper conduct and maladministration.

"We urge all accounting officers across the board to be prudent when spending funds and observe the dictates of the constitution, Public Finance Management Act and Municipal Finance Management Act," Mkhwebane said.

She also told MPs that the Chapter Nine institutions were continuing with their meetings and had deliberated about their work under the lockdown.

During the meeting, ACDP MP Steve Swart noted that the budget cut would impact on the work of the Office of the Public Protector. 

Swart also raised his concerns with the scathing judgments and finding of the courts against Mkhwebane as well as litigation costs.

ANC MP Nqola said the judgments painted a picture of an office that did not understand its jurisdiction. 

MPs also raised questions about the people in acting positions in senior management level and quality assurance done in the completed investigative reports.

Mkhwebane said they did not budget for litigation and that it was funded under the goods and services budget.

"It is concerning that this is portrayed as if it is the only institution facing litigation," she said before naming other organs of state facing litigation. 

Mkhwebane said the scathing court judgements had nothing to do with the drafting of their reports other than dealing with technical matters as opposed to what they had investigated. 

She told MPs that the executive managers, research unit and legal officer were among those engaged in the quality assurance of the reports.

Mkhwebane also said arrangements were made to have people in the vacant positions while there were processes to fill them up.

Political Bureau

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