Public protector's salary questioned in Parliament

Ruling party MPs on Wednesday suggested the public protector’s salary might be reviewed and capped as Thuli Madonsela earned more than most judges.

The chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice, Luwellyn Landers, made it plain that Madonsela’s salary could not be reduced while she was in the post, but said MPs may amend the law to limit the remuneration of her eventual successor.

Madonsela appeared before the committee to plead the case for giving her deputy an increase, but soon found herself grilled over her own pay—now at R1.789-million—in a tense three-hour meeting.

The protector earns the same salary as provincial premiers and judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court.

ANC MP John Jeffery asked why this was the case and claimed that, if one included an annual gratuity of more than R1-million, she earned more than the chief justice.

“Can we just look at the public protector’s salary?” he asked.

“Where does your contention come from that the public protector’s package is linked to that of an appeal court judge? And what is this gratuity and where does it come from?”

“The intention of Parliament when it passed the legislation was [remuneration] ‘on a par with a high court judge’ and not any other judge.”

Madonsela protested: “I think, Honourable Jeffery, you have ambushed me because I did not know my own package was going to be under discussion and I have not reflected on that.”

She corrected his reading of the Public Protector’s Act, saying it stipulated that the office’s salary should be “no less” than that of a high court judge.

It was last reviewed during the term of her predecessor Lawrence Mushwana and was at that point pegged against the pay of an appeal court judge.

The gratuity is paid out in lieu of a pension at the end of the protector’s seven-year term, Madonsela explained, and firmly denied getting paid more than the chief justice.

“I don’t believe that I am paid a cent more than a judge of the SCA or the Constitutional Court.”

Madonsela and Jeffery clashed on several further points.

He rejected her understanding that the committee agreed last year to adjust the deputy public protector’s salary, saying it may have made sympathetic noises at most.

When Madonsela requested the minutes of the meeting where the matter was discussed, she was told there were none.

Jeffery said her work was different to that of a judge and suggested that perhaps she ought to be benchmarked, instead, against the less well-paid heads of other Chapter nine institutions.

“You do write reports, but it is not the same as a court judgment and you don’t sit and hear cases. So that is the problem with benchmarking.”

The chairman of the Human Rights Commission earned little more half of what she did, he said.

“I do think a review is necessary, because these disparities are quite great.”

Landers then told MPs: “I would like you to think whether the act may need to be amended. The question is should there be a ceiling or a cap?

“I was a member of this committee when we drafted this legislation and approved it. My sense is that we now have unintended consequences ... I am saying this to you in your presence, please don’t take it personally advocate Madonsela, we now have a situation where you earn the same as a judge of the SCA and some members of the committee are saying: ‘Is that correct? Was that the intention of the legislature?’ I believe not.”

Uncomfortable decisions
He said the committee would review the deputy public protector’s pay, but it seemed unlikely it will heed Madonsela’s request to backdate an increase to 2005 when Mamiki Shai was appointed.

Lawmakers queried Madonsela’s argument that it was wrong that her deputy earned a third less than she did.

They also questioned Mushwana’s unilateral decision to move the deputy up one level on the salary scale, nearly doubling her pay, without seeking Parliament’s approval.

“The Auditor General said nothing about it so we must assume it is fine, but it has left some of us very uncomfortable,” Landers said.—Sapa

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