Mixed plaudits for public protector’s baptism

Mail & Guardian Reporters

PUBLIC Protector Selby Baqwa’s baptism of fire over the Sarafina II debacle has drawn a mixed reception from political parties and commentators.

The Inkatha Freedom Party slammed his performance, saying Baqwa had been “unfair to the public which demands transparency”. The party’s health study group deputy chair, Jeanette Wilikazi, said he was “just protecting the donor at the expense of the public”.

National Party representative Willem Odendaal said the party did not think Baqwa had dug deep enough. He added that the South African Communications Services had recommeneded that Health Minister Nkosazana Zuma opt for a cheaper and better awareness programme. But Zuma turned down the R5- million project and went for Sarafina II.

Steven Friedman of the Centre for Policy Studies at Wits said that if Baqwa’s ruling meant that any anonymous donations were acceptable he had failed as public protector. It appeared from Baqwa’s slightly confusing report that he would sanction anonymous donations as long as the auditor general and the public protector knew the donor’s identity.

This meant he was not protecting the public, for the only reason anyone would ever give an anonymous donation was to hide they were getting something in return. Friedman said by permitting any anonymous donations Baqwa was making “retrogressive changes” to the treasury.

Political scientist Robert Schrire was more forgiving, saying Baqwa had steered a pragmatic path between the need for transparency and accountability and keeping in with political players — “a pass mark”.

Auditor general Henri Kluever backed his fellow watchdog saying he supported the recommendations that treasury legislation be amended to make it explicit that names of donors could be kept confidential.

Kluever added that the names of donors should only be kept confidential after close scrutiny by the treasury, the public protector, auditor general and director general of the department which would receive the donation.

“I fully support the public protector’s recommendations [about amends to treasury instructions], but I cannot comment on the constitutionality of the matter.”

Kluever said he was surprised that the Sarafina II donor pulled out at this stage.

The Democratic Party’s Mike Ellis said he believed Baqwa had fulfilled his mandate. “I had been concerned that his investigation was not full enough, but after reading his report I believe that he is a man of integrity and worth.”

Baqwa said: “In this regard, it is recommended that an additional provision be added to the effect that donations made — of which the donor’s identity for good reasons is kept confidential — should be acceptable as long as the political office bearer and the accounting officer concerned are satisfied that there is no impropriety or conflict of interest, and the identity of the donor is made known to the public protector and auditor general.”

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