Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said her staff had been “traumatised” by the unauthorised “visit” of police counter intelligence officers to her Pretoria headquarters last week.
Madonsela was speaking on Tuesday at a hearing by Parliament’s portfolio committee on Justice and Constitutional Development.
While she was loathe to call the unsanctioned appearance of the two police officials a raid, she said the event had caused enough consternation and unease among her staff that her CEO Themba Mthethwa had been asked to issue a statement to staff to reassure them.
“Even though it wasn’t a forceful raid, everyone wants to know — are we fighting with the police, are police angry with us, what is going to happen,” she told MPs.
“It has destabilised the staff.”
The counter intelligence officials’ arrival on March 3 followed shortly after Madonsela released the findings of an investigation into a controversial lease agreement for new South African Police Service offices in Pretoria, entered into with politically connected businessman Roux Shabangu.
The Protector found the SAPS had failed to comply with the Constitution, the relevant provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, Treasury Regulations and supply-chain management rules and policies by entering into the lease agreement. This failure amounted to “improper conduct and maladministration” said the report.
A second investigation by the Protector is still under way regarding another lease agreement for an SAPS office in the Durban metropole, also entered into with Shabangu.
The investigation was prompted by an exposé into the leases run by the Sunday Times in August last year.
Officers arrived with copy of newspaper
According to Madonsela, the counter intelligence officials arrived with a copy of the Sunday Times and wanted to know whether her office had copies of the documents referred to in the article, and whether the Protector knew who had leaked the documents.
Madonsela said on the same day the officers made their “inappropriate” visit, her office was expecting documentation from SAPS head office regarding the Durban investigation.
“What bothered my staff was not only that they show up, but they showed up in the middle of an investigation,” she said.
“The morning we were expecting the [Durban] documents, these people show up and only later in the day do we get our documents. It wasn’t that people felt intimidated by the police, it was a feeling that you can’t then investigate, without having shadows behind you.”
Until this incident her office and the SAPS had a good working relationship, she said.
She was glad that the police had moved to address the matter.
During the hearing ANC MP’s were quick to criticise the media’s coverage of the matter.
John Jeffery and Patekile Holimisa accused the media of sensationalising the so-called “raid”, arguing that the picture painted by the media had been exaggerated and misleading.
Madonsela, while unwilling to comment on the media’s coverage, was quick to point out that it was SAPS who first referred to the incident as a “raid”, when news of the story broke.
Opposition MPs however were deeply critical of any perceived attempt to threaten the Protector’s office — an institution set up in Chapter Nine of the Constitution, with the role of investigating the state.
Democratic Alliance MP Debbie Schafer argued that it was “disingenuous” for the ANC to “trivialise” what was “clearly a step to intimidate the office of the Public Protector”.