Ministers don’t get constitution, says Madonsela
MINISTERS in the security cluster were doing the best they could, but needed a little help in understanding the constitution, according to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
Speaking a day after the ministers slapped a ban on the taking and publication of pictures of Nkandla, President Jacob Zuma’s private residence, Madonsela said, despite their attempts to interfere with her probe of the R208 million security upgrades at Nkandla, she had never assumed that they were acting in bad faith.
“I’ve always made assumptions that people are doing the best they can, but they don’t seem to understand the constitution that we all seek to implement,” Madonsela said.
She would not say whether her provisional report on her investigation, which the ministers went to court to delay – only to withdraw the case last week – contained any pictures of Nkandla, or whether she believed the ban had anything to do with the report.
“I really am not able to answer that, because at this stage we can’t disclose what is in our report.”
She confirmed, however, that as with other reports, this one had pictures on the cover and inside pages, adding: “The state knows what the cover page looks like, and what the inner pages look like.”
The message that didn’t seem to be “going through to the other side” was that, while it was true the executive and Parliament had the power to decide on matters of national security, as the ministers insisted again on Thursday, this power was subject to scrutiny by her office, among others.
“Just because you have authority to do something doesn’t mean you have unlim- ited power to do whatever you want with that authority,” she said. “You’ve got to operate within the authority you were given, and somebody has the right to say, ‘You probably didn’t do it right’.”
Speaking earlier during an address to a conference on the National Development Plan hosted by Stellenbosch University’s School of Public Leadership, she said there was confusion “between the power to make the decision… and then the power to be held accountable by an institution given the authority to scrutinise whether or not you have exercised your power within the law”.
She pointed to traffic officers, who had the authority to enforce the rules of the road.
“When he says ‘stop’, I must stop. That doesn’t mean he’s my boss, it just means he has been given the authority to decide on compliance to the road traffic rules.”
She complained of what she termed “pre- constitutional thinking”, which did not understand the additional checks and balances on power introduced in chapters 8, 9 and 10 of the constitution.
Her office had been “totally shocked”, for example, when a minister recently responded to her findings by saying she disagreed with them “and I consider the matter closed”.
She said if she was wrong in her findings, these could be reviewed only by a court.
Responding to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s warning that she could not use private security experts to help decide whether her report still contained any security breaches because they would not have the necessary clearance, Madonsela said she had made it clear no one other than the affected parties would have sight of the provisional report.
Meanwhile, Corruption Watch said in light of Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi’s admission that work on Nkandla was marked by irregularities, it noted “with concern” the reliance on state security as a basis for the ministers’ challenge to the report’s release.
‘NO IDEA’: Thuli Madonsela