At a media briefing at the Press Club in Cape Town on Monday, former public protector Thuli Madonsela declined to say whether her successor, Busiswe Mkhwebane, had altered the contents of a provisional report linking Absa to an apartheid-era bailout worth billions of rands, but said she did “have a view on the matter”.
“I choose not to comment on whether that report is the same as the one I left or whether or not both the conclusions about who did anything wrong and the remedial action are mine or not,” she said.
The public protector’s office undertook the investigation during Madonsela’s term in office. She said that although she had concluded her investigation, she had not signed off on the report before it came under Mkhwebane’s care.
In her provisional report, Mkhwebane wrote that remedial action should include that Absa pay R2.25-billion to the fiscus for an apartheid-era bailout. She also recommended that the president consider a commission of inquiry into state looting during apartheid.
Mkhwebane’s remedial action is, however, not definitive.
Last week she told the Mail & Guardian that the report remained provisional and the office was awaiting comment from those implicated who could provide “information which might change the final report drastically”.
Apartheid era ‘lifeboat’
The provisional findings leaked last week were based on the contents of a report by CIEX, a covert asset recovery agency in the United Kingdom run by former UK spy Michael Oatley, which undertook an investigation into apartheid-era state looting in 1997.
Madonsela said Oatley had made an agreement with the South African government in 1997 to investigate and recover public funds and assets that were misused during apartheid.
She said the government had paid Oatley £100 000 a month for six months to uncover what happened to the money. Part of the CIEX investigation was an allegation that the Bankorp group of banks, which was bought by Absa, had been offered R1.5-billion in the guise a bank “lifeboat” or bailout.
The report came to the attention of the public protector as a result of a complaint being lodged by advocate Paul Hoffman, who works at The Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa.
Leaks and ‘nefarious purposes’
Addressing the concerns about leaks from the public protector’s office, Madonsela said that during her time in office, hard copies of provisional reports were handed to implicated and affected parties for comment before being given to authorities who could implement the report. The office avoided sending out electronic copies of reports to safeguard against leaks.
She said she could not comment on whether this process had now changed, or on the timing of the report’s leak. But she hinted that leaks were often a result of “nefarious purposes” at play.
“I don’t know about the timing of the leaked report, because the leaking of reports has always been for nefarious purposes,” she said. “I don’t know why it has been done at this stage, particularly because in this particular case we had promised Absa and the Reserve Bank [that we would] share the findings or at least the provisional report with them before moving forward.”
“How it ended up with other parties and how people claim to now have an electronic report, I do not know,” she added.
The public protector’s office has yet to finalise the provisional report, and it is unclear when a final version will be complete. Implicated parties have until February 28 to respond.
In the meantime, Madonsela’s final advice to South Africans on the matter was to review the facts rather than spring to outrage and politicking.
“We just need to look at it with cool heads and not allow it to be used to vilify people,” she said.