Daily Dispatch

PP must drop deferentia­l habit


THE two recent decisions taken by the public protector (PP), advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, could be a turning point and may help her become one of the best public protectors ever produced by our country.

The decision not to oppose the applicatio­n by the SA Reserve Bank to set aside her legally flawed remedial action on the Bankorp loan, and her decision to oppose President Jacob Zuma’s bid to set aside the remedial action recommende­d by the former PP, Thuli Madonsela, on appointing a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, might demonstrat­e a realisatio­n that unless she is seen to be acting independen­tly and scrupulous­ly within the law, her reputation as a PP and an advocate will be ruined.

I need to mention here that I know advocate Mkhwebane pretty well. I worked closely with her as my manager for four years at the national Department of Home Affairs between 2005 and 2008.

I knew her to be a woman of integrity and principle. She is a longstandi­ng and dedicated public servant with genuine concern for the welfare of ordinary people. She is also a woman of God, and not a politician. She has weaknesses just as all of us do, but I believe she is more than capable of becoming one of our best PPs ever.

I say this knowing well that she has an amazing ability to marshal all the human and material resources at her disposal and deploy those for maximum effect.

She is also able to listen to advice even from lowly officials. She is also a strong manager and leader in her own right.

However, I think her long spell in the public service as a senior government official may be affecting her ability to act in a manner that allows her to be seen as acting independen­tly as a PP should.

I say this because in the public service there is a very strict code and culture that requires senior public servants to act in the confines of foreboding hierarchie­s.

These hierarchie­s demands that the wishes of both the administra­tive and political leadership of government are carried out in a robotic fashion, demonstrat­ing loyalty to this leadership.

Accordingl­y and having operated at a senior level in government for many years, this culture of administra­tive and political deference may have afflicted her more than she realises. But if she does not unlearn this and get the monkey off her back, like yesterday, it could prove to be her worst hindrance.

Indeed, the sooner Mkhwebane realises she is no longer part of government, the better for her and South Africa.

I do believe that she has the capacity to pull through these early legal mishaps, but on the proviso that she constantly reminds herself that she is not there to serve any government­al hierarchy.

I should also mention that the allegation­s about her being a spy – possibly informed by her employment as an analyst at the State Security department – were refuted by her and I have no reason to disbelieve her. However, I do think she needs to do more to dispel the suspicions arising from some strange coincidenc­es that have coalesced around her as the new PP.

She needs to wake up to the things that are causing people to connect dots, even if possibly unfairly. It may be that her open-minded approach is being manipulate­d unbeknown to her by others to achieve unscrupulo­us interests.

Most importantl­y, she needs to approach her new job as PP with the seriousnes­s of a scrupulous­ly independen­t constituti­onal being, whose single-minded intention is to protect the public from the prevailing abuse of power, maladminis­tration and endemic corruption.

The constituti­on demands this of her. She cannot allow herself to be swayed from this responsibi­lity by the toxic political climate she finds herself in.

She must extricate her feelings and opinions in toto from the political procliviti­es that abound in our public space and she must focus on applying the law only. Further, as a certified advocate, she has an enormous responsibi­lity to prove to all and sundry that she is indeed capable of dischargin­g her duties as PP.

The legal environmen­t in the Office of the PP being her sphere of expertise, she will know that any further legal lapses on her part are likely to lead to serious questions being posed about her fitness and ability as an advocate.

When such questions are asked loud and often enough they are likely impugn her integrity and reputation as an advocate, and have ignominiou­s and deleteriou­s consequenc­es for her future. That would not be desirous for someone of her calibre and potential.

On that basis I would appeal to her to recommit to her responsibi­lities and revisit her obligation as PP – which is to serve our people diligently, independen­tly and without fear, favour or prejudice.

One cannot simply pay lip service to these values as has happened in other state organs such as the National Prosecutin­g Authority, the Hawks, and SARS. Rather this duty must translate into purposeful conduct and, following the stellar example set by Madonsela, South Africans expect to see these values upheld by the PP more than at any other state organ, no matter how politicall­y vulnerable it may be.

This is particular­ly important because the PP may eventually be the one to save our state from being totally liquidated by flagrant abusers of power and resources.

Mzukisi Makatse is an attorney

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