President Cyril Ramaphosa has weighed in on the battle between Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Parliament over its impeachment rules.
In an affidavit filed on Monday, Ramaphosa agreed with Mkhwebane that he has a conflict of interest as far as she is concerned, but he said that his power to suspend her can simply be delegated to another, unconflicted, member of Cabinet.
Mkhwebane has challenged the constitutionality of the impeachment rules on a number of grounds. She has also asked that, pending the outcome of her case against Parliament, the speaker is interdicted from taking any further steps against her.
Alternatively, she has asked that people — the president and MPs — who have a conflict of interest be interdicted from participating in any impeachment process. This is where the president comes in, because the Constitution provides that the public protector may be suspended by the president once an impeachment committee begins a removal process.
The president says he “neither supports nor opposes” Mkhwebane’s application. “I leave the matter in the hands of the court”. But in order to be of assistance to the court, Ramaphosa nonetheless made some submissions. He agreed with Mkhwebane that he had a conflict of interest as far as she is concerned. But the conflict arose from the ongoing litigation between them over her report into his CR17 campaign, which he has challenged in court, he said.
The conflict was not because Mkhwebane had made adverse findings against him in the report. The Constitution envisages contestation between different organs of state, said Ramaphosa, and there are mechanisms for resolving them. It could never be that a finding by the public protector would forever banish a president from suspending her.
However, for now there is a conflict, agreed Ramaphosa. But an interpretation that prevented anyone from exercising the suspension power would be overbroad, he said.
Ramaphosa also took issue with the tone of Mkhwebane’s application, in particular where she describes him as “compromised” and “driven by bad faith and corrupt motives” and where she accuses the president of having “a perverse interest in removing her”.
“These are only some examples of defamatory and inflammatory language employed by the public protector in her application. It is plainly uncalled for and is unbecoming of an incumbent of such an important office in our land,” said the president.