/ 22 February 2008

Zille accuses Public Protector of abuse of office

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille has accused the Public Protector of abusing his office for party political purposes in attacking DA MP Mike Waters, who had asked him to investigate a complaint against the president.

Writing in her weekly online newsletter, SA Today, Zille said Lawrence Mushwana’s record, and that of his predecessor, Selby Baqwa, encapsulates everything that is wrong with the African National Congress’s (ANC) policy of deploying party cadres to institutions supposed to check and balance state power.

”Just like Baleka Mbete’s role as both speaker and ANC national chairperson, Mushwana’s position is a fundamental conflict of interest,” she said. ”Both owe their loyalty to the ANC first and to the Constitution second. They are living examples of Jacob Zuma’s contention that ‘the ANC is even more important than the Constitution’.”

She declared that in the six years since his appointment, Mushwana, a former ANC MP and deputy chair of the National Council of Provinces, has succeeded only in protecting the ANC from the people.

”When such cadres are required to make a choice between the public interest and the party interest, they choose the party every time,” Zille said. ”This is all too apparent in Mushwana’s bizarre vendetta against DA MP Mike Waters. It is nothing less than a betrayal of the constitutional mandate of his office.”

She said that the Public Protector must act as an impartial referee, investigating any valid allegations without fear or favour. But there are two reasons why this may not be the case in South Africa.

”The first is the fact that the Public Protector’s budget is approved by the Ministry of Justice. The all-but-forgotten Corder Report commissioned by the government on accountability noted that executive approval of budget allocations for the Chapter 9 institutions, of which the Public Protector is one, was inconsistent with independence, as well as the need to be perceived as independent by the public.

”The second factor hampering independence is the mechanism by which the Public Protector is appointed. He is appointed by the president on the recommendation of Parliament, leaving considerable scope for the ANC to appoint a loyal party cadre to the position. And this is exactly what the ANC has done.

”Several non-partisan candidates whose qualifications and experience made them equally, if not more suitable, were overlooked. The DA expressed concern at the time about a party cadre occupying a position requiring such rigorous independence. Mushwana’s rulings have made it increasingly clear that our concerns were justified.”

She said that the Oilgate scandal is the clearest example of this. The allegation that in 2003 Imvume Management transferred R11-million of public money into the ANC’s election fund was a classic case of improper conduct. As such, it was a prime example of abuse requiring the investigation of the Public Protector. This is why the DA referred the matter to his office for investigation.

”Mushwana released his report in July 2005. It amounted to little more than a restatement of the ANC’s version of events,” Zille said. ”Mushwana found no evidence of any wrongdoing and claimed that he could not investigate Imvume’s onward payment to the ANC as neither the ANC or Imvume was a public entity. This was a disingenuous sleight of hand, if ever there was one.” — I-Net Bridge