Transparency promised in selecting Thuli’s replacement
courage, integrity and transparency, among others.
“Public protector or puppet,” is how Khoza said she had heard the question phrased.
It was also in the nature of a multi-party process – especially on the eve of elections – for politicians to want to “flex our political muscles”, Khoza said.
But it was the loss of faith in political leadership that concerned her most.
“As leaders we can no longer lie about the leadership credibility crisis that we have in this country,” she said. “The fact that we are now beginning to see members of the public being enraged to the extent that they would demolish the very things they are supposed to be benefiting from, the fact that we’ve seen how the situation has unfolded in Tshwane, how the situation has unfolded elsewhere, in Limpopo, where over 21 schools were burnt down – something says to me, as leaders we have to do some introspection and say, what is it that we are not doing right?”
This is a refreshing departure from the exclusively condemnatory response of much of the political leadership, who have been, perhaps understandably, reluctant to acknowledge their own failings as a contributing factor to the lawlessness.
As Khoza put it, the selection of a new public protector offered “an opportunity to engage on issues of morality versus legality”.
“The reality is that you may be doing something that may be legally justifiable, but may be morally questionable.
“And if the public protector does not have credibility, it would be a sad day for South Africa, because right now, more than ever, we need a public protector who is going to enjoy the confidence of South Africans,” Khoza said.
Nor did she dodge some of the awkward questions put to her by the audience, including whether the public could be expected to have faith in a process over which the ANC would have the final say (the National Assembly must approve the candidate chosen by the committee by a 60 percent majority, which the governing party can muster on its own), when its MPs, especially those serving on the justice committee, had taken such a dim view of Madonsela’s efforts.
She said in response her engagements with the public since being asked to chair the committee had opened her eyes to the fact that “as leaders we have to accept that the public no longer trust us as much as when they put us into power”.
“And it’s important that we listen.”
To try to make the process more transparent and to “subject ourselves to the kind of accountability and checks and balances that are there”, there would, for the first time, be a closeout report explaining the reasons for the committee’s choice and, as far as possible, a standardised process so MPs could answer questions about how they had scored each candidate, and why.
Khoza welcomed the participation of civil society, promising to consider questions proposed by the public for the interviews and immediately taking on board some of the qualities considered to be important for the job emerging from a survey done by Corruption Watch.
Within an hour of being asked to make the ID numbers of candidates available so their qualifications and business interests could be verified, she had consulted parliamentary staff and agreed this would be done.
All of this seems to confirm Khoza’s conviction that “the process is as important as the outcome” – an acceptance that any whiff of expediency on the part of the committee will strip the successful candidate of all credibility in the public mind, regardless of his or her personal merits.
It is an excellent start and a quite different face of the ANC to the one it wore in response to Madonsela’s Nkandla report.
Questions remain, however. For one thing, these are just the preliminary steps in the process. The real test will come when interviews start – after the August 3 elections.
For another, as Khoza emphasised, she is merely steering proceedings, and MPs on the committee will be doing the actual scoring.
Her commitment to transparency will go a long way in supporting the integrity of the process, but it doesn’t preclude the possibility of a predetermined outcome.
Nevertheless, the public don’t have to accept this as inevitable. The interviews will be open to the public and broadcast live and, in the meantime, comments and objections to the 59 candidates can be sent to the committee secretary at: Vramaano@parliament.gov.za
As Khoza put it, “I think we need to locate our moral compass as a country, and this process is giving us that opportunity”.
She went on to thank civil society groups for “being so interested in this process and for keeping me on my toes, and making sure it culminates in a result that will not be disappointing”. It sounded like an invitation.