Protector’s wings clipped
WE HOPE Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane will be taking a good, hard look at herself over the next few days. The general feeling is that she has messed up badly in her first big case. And many will be saying she deserves whatever flak she gets.
There was a touch of arrogance in the way she pronounced on her probe involving the SA Reserve Bank and Absa. Her instruction to Parliament to amend the constitution so that the SARB’s mandate could be changed was greeted with disbelief, as was her ruling that a R1.125 billion loan to Bankorp during the apartheid era should be recovered from Absa. Disbelief quickly turned to anger. Several experts told Mkhwebane her ruling was incorrect and unconstitutional. And the SARB, Absa, the minister of finance and Parliament all threatened legal action against her. Her response went along the lines of “I’ll see you in court.”
There’s a disturbing trend in Parliament, stateowned enterprises and some Chapter Nine bodies to run to court or defend themselves in court when common sense suggests they stand little chance of winning. And so it proved with Mkhwebane. It’s hard to fathom what made her think she could instruct Parliament to change the constitution – then almost as quickly change her mind.
In papers delivered in court, she said: “I accept that the public protector’s powers are subject to the constitution and the law. It is not possible that the constitution would confer a power to the public protector to undermine other provisions of the constitution. The power to amend the constitution is exercised at the discretion of Parliament and not under dictation by any other body,” she said when withdrawing her court challenge.
What she appeared not to know is basic stuff: Constitution 101. We find it incredible that our public protector seemed blissfully unaware of this.
When Mkhwebane took over as public protector from Thuli Madonsela, many South Africans were highly sceptical. But we believed she deserved a chance. She has now had that chance – and failed it.
Last week she had a difficult job. From today onwards, it became 10 times harder – and she has only herself to blame.