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Powerful ammunition in Public Protector's hands

Publish date: 13 May 2019
Issue Number: 823
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa, fresh from a less than convincing election victory, is, according to many political analysts, likely to continue to feel the pressure from a faction within the ANC that opposes his campaign for clean governance. And his executive is also facing politically explosive investigations by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane against, among others, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Ramaphosa himself. A Financial Mail backgrounder says it should be concerning that Gordhan has repeatedly described Mkhwebane’s investigation into his time as Commissioner of SARS as an abuse of her powers, and argued that it is part of a ‘fightback’ against that anti-corruption drive. This, it suggests, also reflects a wide level of distrust, from many quarters, in a Chapter Nine institution that is constitutionally mandated to serve as a powerful watchdog against state wrongdoing. They also follow the intense criticism levelled against Mkhwebane over her invalidated order that the constitutional mandate of the Reserve Bank be changed from a focus on protecting the rand, and accusations that she abused her office in making that order. The Constitutional Court has yet to rule on whether the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) was correct to find Mkhwebane could ‘reasonably be suspected of bias’ in her investigation of the apartheid-era bailout given by the Reserve Bank to Bankorp, and to order that she pay an estimated R900 000 of the legal costs incurred in that case out of her own pocket. What blurs the lines further, says the FM, is that Ramaphosa is himself the subject of investigation by Mkhwebane. The Public Protector is probing a complaint by DA leader Mmusi Maimane that the President may have deliberately misled Parliament about a R500 000 donation to his ANC election campaign, received from Gavin Watson, the controversial CEO of corruption-accused facilities management company Bosasa (now known as African Global Operations). Ramaphosa initially told the National Assembly that his son Andile had received money from the company for services rendered under a consultancy contract. The Presidency later corrected that reply in a letter to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, saying Ramaphosa had been unaware that the money in question was a donation from Watson. The FM says that any potential finding by Mkhwebane that Ramaphosa lied to Parliament about the payment – or that he failed to declare a conflict of interest in his relationship with Bosasa – will be powerful ammunition against a President who has been outspoken in his anti-corruption rhetoric. It concludes: ‘The Public Protector has previously crashed the markets with her totally unfounded Bank report. As the legal and political storm clouds continue to gather around her office, there may be real reason to prepare for the worst.’

Full Financial Mail article