Oilgate decision ‘a victory for M&G and Public Protector’

The decision by Thuli Madonsela not to contest an appeal court judgment ordering the Public Protector to set aside a 2005 report into the Oilgate scandal not only upholds the integrity of the Mail & Guardian‘s investigations into the matter, but also strengthens the office of the protector, said M&G editor in chief Nic Dawes on Wednesday.

Madonsela announced earlier on Wednesday that she would not be challenging the judgment, which sets aside the 2005 report into the Oilgate scandal by her predecessor Lawrence Mushwana.

The M&G revealed in May 2005 how R11-million in taxpayers’ money had flowed from PetroSA, the state oil company, to the ANC’s 2004 election campaign, through empowerment oil trader Imvume Management.

Mushwana purported to investigate the matter, but made no attempt to consult the M&G during his investigation. He held in his report: “Much of what has been published by the M&G was factually incorrect, based on incomplete information and documentation and comprised unsubstantiated suggestions and unjustified speculation.”

The M&G took Mushwana’s report, widely held to have been a “whitewash”, on review under the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, following its release in July 2005. Judge Ntsikelelo Poswa heard the matter in November 2007 and in July 2009 found in the M&G‘s favour, setting the report aside.

On June 1, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the Public Protector against the high court order, upholding Poswa’s ruling that the report be set aside.

On Wednesday, Madonsela said her office accepted the ruling.

Victory for the Public Protector
“While technically this is a victory for the M&G it also a victory for the Public Protector as it makes it very clear she has a constitutional duty to use her wide-ranging powers to conduct robust investigations,” Dawes said.

In the ruling, the SCA did not order Madonsela to re-investigate the matter, but rather to look into what was needed to fulfill her duties in her role as the new Public Protector.

Madonsela told reporters in Pretoria she would scrutinise the report “to establish what needs to be done to conclude this matter”.

Madonsela’s announcement comes as her office embarks on a series of investigations into improper leasing of state buildings involving several high ranking figures, including police commissioner General Bheki Cele and businessman Roux Shabangu.

In the course of her investigations, Madonsela has in turn been accused of corruption and fraud during her time as a commissioner at the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC).

On Wednesday, Madonsela rubbished the fraud and corruption allegations, vowing not to be sidetracked from fulfilling her office’s constitutional mandate.

Integrity upheld
“In essence this is a great outcome, both for us and the office of the protector. The final judgment set the record straight on Mushwana’s report, which impugned upon our journalistic integrity. Furthermore, it provides support for what Madonsela is trying to do in her position
— exactly what he predecessor could not,” Dawes said.

Madonsela would not say whether she would be reopening the investigation into the Oilgate scandal, but did commit the office of the protector to engaging the M&G on the matter.

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