/ 6 March 2018

Public Protector admits to leaving out information from Vrede report

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane did not include information about the Gupta family in her office’s report into the Vrede dairy farm, because it was not part of the scope of the investigation.

This was the submission Mkhwebane made to Parliament’s justice portfolio committee after she was summoned to appear in February.

The summons came after the public protector’s report on the farm in the Free State ignited outrage because it did not hold senior politicians – such as former Free State premier Ace Magashule and former MEC for agriculture in the province Mosebenzi Zwane – accountable for the missing millions that were meant to benefit poor black farmers.

“There was never a complaint directly about the Vrede dairy farm relating to the Gupta issues,” Mkhwebane said.

A complaint about the farm was raised at the public protector’s office in 2013. Mkhwebane said that the focus of the complaint was on “administrative issues and financial mismanagement”.

It was not in the scope of the report to investigate senior politicians and the Guptas, she said.

By the time she was appointed to office, Mkhwebane explained, the report was already complete and was being handled by the quality assurance team inside the headquarters of the public protector.

“There was nowhere in the report where it was also implicating certain politicians,” she said.

After her submission, Mkhwebane was grilled, particularly by Democratic Alliance MPs, for failing to expand the scope of the investigation.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Glynnis Breytenbach, who originally opened a case with police regarding the dairy farm, criticised the public protector for only conducting six interviews in the four years that the office investigated the matter.

“What you failed to investigate was the most serious allegations of corruption, money laundering and theft… Why did you not investigate this?,” Breytenbach asked Mkhwebane.

“There was nothing stopping you from expanding the scope of the report,” Breytenbach said.

Breytenbach also pointed out that the public protector had failed to interview any of the beneficiaries who were swindled out of opportunities that the Free State government had promised when it had signed off on developing the farm.

ANC MP Madipoane Mothapo agreed with Breytenbach, saying Mkhwebane had made a “serious omission” by failing to interview beneficiaries.

Mkhwebane, meanwhile, has said that information on the infamous Gupta wedding in Sun City, and media report on money laundering that was informed by the Gupta leaks was also left out of the report because the investigation was complete at the time the leaks entered the public domain.

Upon answering the concerns raised by MPs, Mkhwebane said that the matter is currently sub judice and she was wary of undermining the courts.

The DA and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) have filed a court application to take the report on judicial review.

Mkhwebane said she therefore “would not be dwelling on” the concerns raised in depth.

“I wouldn’t want this process to violate the processes of the courts,” she said.

Mkhwebane did not clarify why the scope of the investigation was not expanded , but she said that the Gupta leaks were not reliable enough to be used in the report.

She said the report was focusing on “totally different issues” and maintained that the investigation had to be confined to the complaint that was raised.