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Madonsela: There is only one public protector

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on Sunday downplayed the standoff with her deputy but again defended her office's right to decide what they investigate and the ultimate rule of her office.

"Ultimately I make my own decisions – there is only one public protector and I am held responsible for the decisions of this office," Madonsela said.

The public protector was responding to a squabble between her and deputy public protector Kevin Malunga.

Malunga was seen as breaking ranks with Madonsela in early May by sending a letter to Parliament distancing himself from the views of his boss.

Madonsela faced off with members of Parliament's portfolio committee on justice and constitutional development on May 2 over her office's jurisdiction.

MPs claimed Madonsela was overstepping the boundaries of what she should be investigating, but she fought back saying they had no right to question what she and her office scrutinised.

'Not suck up to it'
​Malunga wrote to the parliamentary portfolio committee, which conducts oversight over the office of the public protector, distancing himself from Madonsela's views.

"The spirit of my correspondence is that we must respect Parliament, of course, not suck up to it," Malunga wrote.

"I have a view based on the law. Section 181 (5) of the Constitution. We have to account to Parliament. We can't be a law unto ourselves."

Malunga also claimed that Madonsela's interpretation of the powers of the public protector and its jurisdiction was not official policy and may even be her own personal views.

Section 181 of the South African constitution governs state institutions and makes clear that while the public protector's office remains accountable to Parliament it remains independent and cannot be interfered with by any organ of state.

181. Establishment and governing principles

  1. The following state institutions strengthen constitutional democracy in the republic:
    1. ​The public protector.
    2. The South African Human Rights Commission.
    3. The commission for the promotion and protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities.
    4. The Commission for Gender Equality.
    5. The auditor general.
    6. The electoral commission.
  2. These institutions are independent, and subject only to the Constitution and the law, and they must be impartial and must exercise their powers and perform their functions without fear, favour or prejudice.
  3. Other organs of state, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect these institutions to ensure the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of these institutions.
  4. No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of these institutions.
  5. These institutions are accountable to the National Assembly, and must report on their activities and the performance of their functions to the Assembly at least once a year.

Madonsela said Malunga's decision to approach Parliament directly was "unfortunate".

"This has been painted as a spat but it has been blown out of proportion," she added.

"It was just one event that unfortunately turned into a spectacle. Professional relationships are healthy if there is disagreement."

The public protector even commended Malunga on his contribution to the protector since taking office in 2012.

"Although the executing authority lies with me, it would be foolish to think I would sit in a corner and make all the decisions on my own," she added.

"Advocate Malunga has made very useful suggestions that have positively impacted our work and increased our footprint. I can only hope his contribution will continue in this way."

But Madonsela also emphasised her stance that Parliament should not meddle in who or what her office decides to investigate.

"Parliament should not directly question specific cases we approach. We can always talk about our approach and strategy but never why we take on certain cases or not," she added.

"It has always been a non-negotiable for me to be able to conduct my work independently and without fear or favour."

Malunga could not be reached for further comment.

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Nickolaus Bauer
Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend.

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