Mkhwebane’s flip-flopping raises serious questions over her fitness for office

Uncertaint­y over what and who’s interests public protector serves

- Nompumelel­o Runji ■ Comment on Twitter @Nompumelel­oRunj

A democracy is only as strong as the institutio­ns that underpin it. The legitimacy of those institutio­ns depends on them maintainin­g their integrity, thereby preserving their credibilit­y.

Once such institutio­ns, particular­ly those such as the office of the public protector, which exercise oversight over the conduct of the state towards citizens, are brought into disrepute, so is the credibilit­y and legitimacy of our democratic order brought into question.

More so, these institutio­ns are also only as good as the individual­s who lead them and constitute them. A leader’s conduct and character becomes intertwine­d and inextricab­le from that of the institutio­n.

It is often said that we must separate office from personalit­y, but the personalit­y of the office bearer easily affects, taints or infects the office.

Flip-flopping by public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane does not engender confidence in that important office.

Facing major criticism over the Absa report wherein she revealed a gross ignorance of the extent of her powers, she has now admitted that she made a mistake.

Her office conceded that the errors related to her findings that the South African Reserve Bank’s mandate must be changed is on account of mistakes in the “legal crafting of her order”.

In an affidavit she acknowledg­es that her remedial actions went too far and she would thus not oppose the SARB’s review applicatio­n over her report.

Unfortunat­ely for Mkhwebane, this only gives credence to charges that she is incompeten­t. Crafting legal orders is a critical part of her job. And crafting legal orders means she ought to have a good understand­ing of the laws of this country. The so-called “typo” in the Absa report demonstrat­es quite the opposite.

This would not have been the first of her reports to be taken on review. But this is the first in which the competence of the public protector and her fitness to hold office are at issue.

Coming into the position, she already faced the pressure of comparison­s with her predecesso­r Advocate Thuli Madonsela, whose legacy she spent the first few weeks in office trying to undermine.

Part of that effort was seen in her seeming reluctance to oppose President Jacob Zuma’s review applicatio­n of the State of Capture report wherein he was implicated.

It is therefore ironic that in the same week she made an about turn over her Absa report, Mkhwebane decided to take the fight to the president, defending her predecesso­r’s remedial action for a commission of inquiry into allegation­s of state capture.

Realising the public relations disaster that her concession of error on SARB is, perhaps she was advised that she could redeem herself through opposing Zuma and showing herself in favour of action over state capture.

However, she has already damaged the stature of her office. The cynicism over her new-found zeal over state capture is as a result of her earlier conduct. She is responsibl­e for the trust deficit that has developed between the office of the public protector and society.

The success of democracy by and large hinges on the attitude and behaviour of those who lead those democratic institutio­ns. The expectatio­n is that their conduct will be in the interests of the people because they owe it to the people who lend them their trust.

As long as public office bearers live up to that trust, they retain legitimacy. But as soon as they betray that trust they and the very institutio­ns they lead lose credibilit­y in the eyes of the people.

The trouble with Mkhwebane’s image has always been from the uncertaint­y as what or who’s interests she serves. And this latest set of inconsiste­ncies deepens rather than clarifies that confusion.

Her stance over issues, knowledge of the law and understand­ing of her mandate only serves to diminish the glory of that proud institutio­n.

 ?? / MOELETSI MABE ?? Public protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s flip-flopping on her remedial action recommenda­tions regarding the SA Reserve Bank has invited scrutiny of her office.
/ MOELETSI MABE Public protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s flip-flopping on her remedial action recommenda­tions regarding the SA Reserve Bank has invited scrutiny of her office.
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