Visiting ombud shares tips on protecting the SA public

While the recommendations of the public protector are not always heeded by the South African government, her Canadian counterpart says similar reports there are never ignored.

Andre Marin, the ombudsman for Canada’s Ontario province, enjoys responsibilities and powers equivalent to those of South Africa’s public protector, Thuli Madonsela.

At a roundtable discussion in Pretoria on Wednesday, Marin said that every recommendation submitted to Ontario’s political leadership had been acted on by the government since the ombud’s office was created in 1975.

In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma has been criticised for doing no more than welcoming the protector’s finding that national police commissioner General Bheki Cele and Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu- Nkabinde acted improperly in the leasing of police headquarters worth R1.76-million.

Marin said ombuds throughout the world faced tremendous pressure by their countries’ governments to refrain from “stirring the pot” in dealing with complaints against them, and rather to “take the easy way out” and praise government actions.

Dangers of the job
After her finding that Cele’s actions amounted to maladministration, Madonsela’s offices were raided by the police— raising suggestions that she had been targeted as retribution for her report.

Marin said there was always tension between governments and those appointed to watchdog positions, especially when elected politicians demanded to know why the “the non-elected” were telling them what to do.

Zuma appointed human rights and constitutional lawyer Madonsela in 2009 following a unanimous vote of support by members of Parliament.

The public protector in South Africa is commissioned by the Constitution to investigate complaints into the actions of local, provincial and national government departments in South Africa.

Public Protector Madonsela has made press headlines in recent days for her decision to investigate tenders awarded by the Limpopo Roads department to On-Point Engineering, a company linked to ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.

On Tuesday, she said her office would be investigating the ANC’s complaint into the awarding of a tender by the Democratic Alliance-led Western Cape government to advertising company TBWA Hunt Lascaris, after a Sunday Times report suggesting impropriety in the deal.

Nothing but the tooth
Marin has been in South Africa offering a course to the protector’s investigators called “Sharpening Your Teeth”, which aims to help them speed up their investigations.

Madonsela joked that her investigators did not intend “to bite anyone” following the training but would be using the lessons they learnt to strengthen the protector’s office.

Marin also said he had never had a report leaked in his six years in office. In Canada such leaks would lead to jail time for those involved, as the leaking of reports would be seen as “hindering the work of the ombudsman”, which is illegal.

The second draft report of the public protector’s report into the police leases was leaked to the Sunday Times.

Marin called leaking of draft reports “a great disservice” to the office of the public protector.

He said that preliminary reports were made available to the Canadian government and complainants for discussion before finalisation—but were never disseminated electronically and were printed on paper that could not be photocopied.

Madonsela said her office would be learning from Marin’s team on how best to keep draft reports private.


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