Thuli Madonsela: Uncowed, unbowed

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Public Protector Thuli Madonsela will appear before Parliament’s justice portfolio committee next Friday to give her account of a number of complaints against her.

In Cape Town on Wednesday, convening a public hearing about the Western Cape health sector, Madonsela went about her business with customary unflappability. Afterwards, she told the Daily Maverick that she welcomed the opportunity to clear her name.

“There is clearly no merit to the allegations against me,” Thuli Madonsela told the Daily Maverick on Wednesday in Cape Town’s Civic Centre. She was speaking a day after Parliament’s justice portfolio committee had met to deliberate on the complaints laid against Madonsela, and resolved that she should be called in to address the committee on August 2nd.

The complaints against Madonsela and the office of the Public Protector are twofold in form: anonymous letters, allegedly from her staff; and a dossier from her former deputy, Mamiki Shai. There have since reportedly been additional complaints laid by the public. The major allegations are to do with nepotism; favouritism (particularly with regards to Madonsela’s CEO Themba Mthethwa); the alleged accepting of a bribe from the DA to fast-track investigations in the Northern Cape; abuse of overseas travel; and fruitless expenditure.

It was Madonsela herself who brought the complaints to Parliamentary Speaker Max Sisulu: a point she mentions several times. Sisulu then referred the matter to the Parliamentary committee which deals with justice and constitutional development for investigation.

The problem is that there is no set protocol for Parliament to deal with complaints against the Public Protector. The Citizen reported on Wednesday that this was the first time the situation had arisen since the advent of democracy. The Committee also pointed out that they did not have the ability to carry out the work of a tribunal.

If, after the meeting with Madonsela, the committee decides that the issue warrants a more in-depth investigation, it can recommend that the National Assembly should appoint a body like the Auditor General to investigate instead.

Madonsela said that she was happy to appear in front of the committee, but needed “further particulars” to respond to some complaints she was not familiar with. With regards to the allegation that the DA in Kimberley paid the Public Protector a bribe, for instance, she said she needed to be provided with details as to who allegedly bribed whom exactly. To accuse her entire Kimberley team, she said, would be “insulting”.

“I will comply in the same way that when I conduct oversight queries, I expect to be complied with,” Madonsela said. In order to assist them fully on Friday, she said she hoped she received the necessary information.

“I initiated this process,” she emphasised. “Nobody from Parliament asked me to do anything about it…I voluntarily sent my own findings to Parliament.”

It’s been suggested that there are government top dogs gunning for Madonsela’s scalp. Public Protector investigations have brought down the likes of Police Commissioner Bheki Cele and Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde. Madonsela is not afraid to take on powerful figures: earlier this year she said that she was considering investigating Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

There is also the fact that the Public Protector’s office said this week that they should be in a position to release a report on Nkandla in two weeks’ time. But on Wednesday Madonsela wouldn’t be drawn on speculation.

“Regarding people trying to destabilise my office…that’s the information I’ve got, some of it from the public and some of it from the media. But I’m not saying Parliament holding me accountable is destabilising my office. Parliament has to do its job.”

Somebody with a very public axe to grind against Madonsela is her former deputy Mamiki Shai, who appears to be part of the driving force behind the current complaints. Shai was appointed by Zuma in 2005 for a period of seven years, and her contract expired at the end of last November. In October it was reported that Shai was the author of a document submitted to the justice portfolio committee alleging that Madonsela was biased against the ANC.

(One of the pieces of evidence that has previously been used to bolster accusations that Madonsela is pro-DA is that she attended a Democratic Alliance Women’s Network (DAWN) event in the Western Cape last year. Madonsela countered that she had also attended the ANC’s centenary celebrations in Mangaung in January.)

When Shai appeared before the justice portfolio committee just before the end of her contract, however, her complaint against Madonsela was labelled as lacking substance. “We have had to listen to what is essentially office politics,” DA MP Dene Smuts complained.

In a M&G interview last October, Madonsela described her relationship with Shai as “professional”. Madonsela said that Shai had attended her birthday on September 28th and given her “a bear hug, a kiss and a bunch of flowers… She said to me she meant no harm”.

Less than two months later, Shai was singing a different tune. Appearing before the Parliamentary justice committee on November 27th, Shai told the committee: “To tell you the truth… (she is) somebody I wouldn’t want to work with, or even be friends (with), after the 30th (of this month)”.

“It’s been said that some of [the complaints] come from my deputy,” Madonsela said on Wednesday. “I will hear from Parliament because they haven’t informed me that yet. But even if it comes from my deputy, those allegations are baseless.”

The fact that some of the other complaints against Madonsela are anonymous is likely to prove a headache for the justice portfolio committee. The anonymous allegations will be difficult to investigate by virtue of their anonymity, committee chair Lluwellyn Landers admitted on Tuesday.

“They are baseless,” Madonsela said. “It doesn’t really matter who they were made by. For example, if ‘Anonymous’ comes from my office – how do we know Anonymous comes from my office?”

Madonsela says relations within the Public Protector’s office are healthy. ““My office is united, and we’re united not because we’re friends, but because we have a common purpose, which is to restore the relationship between government and people…I have a feeling that everyone in my office buys into that purpose.” She also dismissed the idea that she attempted to protect her CEO Themba Mthethwa from criminal investigation.

“That’s crazy, because the deputy [Shai] is aware that the issue of the CEO was not raised by her, it was raised by me,” Madonsela said. “But again, it’s documented. That’s why… I don’t understand. Because all these allegations were raised by Anonymous; I then took my time before I sent the whole thing to the Speaker. I spent time on each allegation to say ‘This is what actually happened’, and on each issue we then put the annexures, the memos.”

Madonsela says Mthethwa got no special treatment. “I treat my CEO the way I treat everyone in my office.”

Is there any truth to the complaints against Madonsela? If not, are they simply the grudges of aggrieved current and former employees, or part of a more sinister attempt to silence an outspoken voice on matters of governance and transparency? The justice committee will have to decide whether a full-scale investigation into the Public Protector is justified, but there will be many rooting for Madonsela.

When the M&G asked Madonsela last October if she was confident that she would complete her seven-year term, Madonsela acknowledged that there were no guarantees.

“If it is [centred on the] truth I will complete my term, because for Parliament or anyone to remove the public protector from his or her job they need a two-thirds majority,” Madonsela said. “It all depends on the president. He has the discretion to suspend me or not.” 

Photo: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is seen at the release of a report in Pretoria, Thursday, 7 February 2013. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

By: Rebecca Davis

Source: The Daily Maverick