'Rude' MPs rile Thuli Madonsela

'The role of the chairperson is to create an enabling environment for dialogue and not to suppress it,' wrote Thuli Madonsela.

'The role of the chairperson is to create an enabling environment for dialogue and not to suppress it,' wrote Thuli Madonsela.

In a letter written this week to the chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, Mathole Motshekga, and the committee’s members, public protector Thuli Madonsela asked to be shown “the same level of human decency or courtesy to ministers when they account or report to Parliament”.

In the letter, Madonsela bemoaned the contempt with which she was treated when she appeared before the committee late last month. 

The Mail & Guardian has seen a copy of the letter.

In it, Madonsela cautioned MPs to avoid confusing rudeness for robustness when they play an oversight role on her office. “I believe the encounter with the honourable chairperson and some of the members was inexplicably unpleasant, even hostile,” Madonsela wrote.

This is the second letter she has sent to Parliament especially about Motshekga’s conduct. The first was addressed to the National Assembly speaker, Baleka Mbete.

Tensions escalate
Tensions between Madonsela and mainly ANC MPs serving on the portfolio committee escalated when she was accused of undermining the justice system, wasting taxpayers’ money and submitting a flawed and incomplete report to Parliament.

It degenerated into a war of words, with Motshekga accusing Madonsela of being a law unto herself and ANC MPs saying she was “behaving like the DA [Democratic Alliance]”. 

In what could further fuel tensions, on Wednesday this week Motshekga ruled that the public protector should report to his committee four times a year, twice more than other chapter nine institutions. 

Madonsela said in her letter she did not expect any special treatment by Parliament, but drew a line when it came to disrespect.
“Rudeness is not robustness, and accusing me of things I have never done, such as ‘taking government to court instead of using ADR [alternative dispute resolution] and continuing to investigate matters that should be referred to the Public Service Commission’, among others, is not robust and I believe cannot pass the test of the Constitution.

“I further believe that the values of human dignity and equality, which are among the founding values of our democracy, should prevail in all our dealings as a people, including parliamentary encounters.” 

More powers than ministers
Motshekga told the M&G he didn’t understand Madonsela’s request for respect, saying that in fact Madonsela has more powers than ministers. “She can investigate the President even. So I don’t know what powers she has. We treat everyone equally.”

He denied Madonsela was being discriminated against. “For a long time the ruling party was accused of posing sweetheart questions in Parliament. We need robust engagement.”

But Madonsela would have none of it. “The role of the chairperson is to create an enabling environment for dialogue and not to suppress it,” she said in the letter. 

Madonsela has requested an interview with Mbete and Motshekga to discuss the way in which she was treated in Parliament, and the DA has given notice that it will table a motion of no confidence in Motshekga at the portfolio committee’s next sitting.

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