Public protector denies foul play in Gordhan investigation

Mkhwebane has been accused of subpoenaing Gordhan without evidence, but she has hit back at critics saying she is empowered to conduct preliminary investigations. (Madelene Cronje/M&G)

Mkhwebane has been accused of subpoenaing Gordhan without evidence, but she has hit back at critics saying she is empowered to conduct preliminary investigations. (Madelene Cronje/M&G)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has hit back at utterances made by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s attorney that her office has no evidence against the minister, saying that the investigation into Gordhan is at a “preliminary” stage.

The public protector is investigating claims that Gordhan — in his capacity as South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner — unfairly approved former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay’s early retirement package and his re-employment in 2010.

But Mkhwebane’s investigation has come under scrutiny after her office subpoenaed Gordhan to appear before the public protector at the same time he is due to appear at the commission of inquiry into state capture headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

At the weekend, Gordhan’s attorney Tebogo Malatji told TimesLive that Mkhwebane had no evidence of wrongdoing against Gordhan.

“We wrote to the public protector on 16 February 2018, expressly stating that we require that we be provided the particulars and evidence of the alleged dishonesty and impropriety on the part of Minister Gordhan,” Malatji said.
“To date, such evidence and particulars have not been provided, but for a letter from the Office of the public protector dated 28 February 2018, indicating that the Office was in the process of conducting a preliminary investigation… In the said letter, the public protector indicated that her office has no evidence implicating Minister Gordhan of any wrongdoing,” Malatji said.

Malatji further refuted claims by Mkhwebane that Gordhan had failed to respond to allegations contained in four letters her office had sent between February and July 2018. His lack of response, Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segwale said, had compelled her office to subpoena Gordhan.

In a statement on Monday, Mkhwebane responded to claims made by Malatji by saying that her office is empowered to conduct preliminary investigations.

“The Public Protector is empowered by the law to conduct a preliminary investigation forthe purpose of determining the merits of complaints, allegations or information, amongother things. The investigation into the alleged conduct of Minister Gordhan is therefore at a preliminary stage,” Mkhwebane said.

She also denied that her office was aware that Gordhan was appearing before the state capture commission of inquiry until his attorneys communicated it in their response to Mkhwebane.

“It has also been insinuated that the subpoena was timed to coincide with the minister’sappearance before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry. This is false. When responding tothe subpoena on 22 October 2018, the minister, through his attorney, revealed to thepublic protector that he was scheduled to appear before the Zondo Commission ofInquiry on 15 November 2018. This was not known to the public protector when sheserved the subpoena on the minister twenty (20) days earlier,” Mkhwebane said in her statement.

Gordhan has agreed to appear before the public protector on November 14. He has accused her investigation of being an “abuse of public powers for suspicious objectives”. 

Read the public protector’s statement:

Public Protector clarifies her investigation into the conduct of Minister Gordhan by Mail and Guardian on Scribd

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather