PUBLIC Protector Thuli Madonsela has anticipated a stormy run-up to the release of her office’s investigation into the multimillion-rand upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s home in Nkandla‚ and has pre-empted the situation by saying some people may not like her conclusions.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune‚ she said: "I cannot comment on the contents of the report…. But there’s a real chance that we may come out and say things aren’t really as bad as they seem.”
She indicated that all that money spent may well have been within guidelines‚ and thus did not constitute irregular spending.
"It is possible that people may be disappointed because we work with the law. If the law authorised them to spend that money‚ I may disagree in my personal view and say this shouldn’t have happened‚ but if the law allows it‚ you can just say: ‘Please change the law’‚” she is quoted as saying.
I don’t recall that Madonsela has ever been concerned about how her reports will be received before this one.
The provisional report has been handed to the ministers in the security cluster (which has to make sure the president’s security is not compromised‚ without having a say in the report)‚ and the final version will be made available later in the month.
MPs have pointed to what might be Madonsela’s top concern by saying that even if she couldn’t make adverse findings in the Nkandla matter‚ the public found such an expenditure to be unacceptable.
Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said: "The point is that it’s unacceptable to the public‚ who are the bosses of the president. He’s not their king‚ he’s not doing them a favour by being in office. And if members of the public are outraged and angry‚ the right thing to do is to say‚ ‘Enough‚ we’re putting a stop to this project‚ we’re conducting an investigation.’”
The same report quotes Inkatha Freedom Party chief whip Koos van der Merwe saying it was simply unacceptable for the state to pump so much money into one person’s home.
Still‚ I don’t think Madonsela’s mind was on the public’s concern when she gave the interview. She has complained for a long time that public officials don’t know the law‚ and thus how to do their jobs.
In 2011‚ I interviewed her‚ and she said "there’s a problem around institutional memory. People are coming in and out all the time and many of them don’t understand the systems‚ so I think corruption is aided by a lack of awareness on what should be happening. I would say it is a capacity deficit instead of incompetence.
"A lot of people are new‚ so if you are new as a minister‚ whatever your staff says should be done‚ is done. It is time we thought about a career civil service again. At the beginning of 1994 there was a need to transform the civil service‚ to bring new people in laterally‚ but perhaps it’s time now that we avoid lateral entries. It’s 17 years into democracy‚” she said.
She has made plain her feelings about Parliament’s competence‚ much to Parliament’s disgust.
In October‚ the justice portfolio committee met to discuss the public protector’s annual report. Madonsela’s insistence that her office derived its powers from the constitution and not necessarily from acts of Parliament was taken to mean that Parliament wasn’t fully authorised to rein her in.
"You in short are accountable to us‚ accountability is a hierarchical relationship. You must justify the performance of your functions to us‚” DA MP Dene Smuts said to Madonsela.
Later on‚ Madonsela offered to send a booklet to Smuts to "enhance her understanding” of the laws governing her office — which unsurprisingly provoked an angry response from the DA parliamentary veteran.
African National Congress (ANC) and DA MPs are united on this. The public protector is overstepping her mark. Mazibuko and others took issue with the security cluster’s exclusive access to the Nkandla provisional report despite Madonsela’s guarantee that the Cabinet did not have editorial rights over the report.
Parliament and Madonsela have taken different views on what to do about her findings against Independent Electoral Commission chairwoman Pansy Tlakula‚ with the former deciding that it would be illegal and unconstitutional for it to act as directed by the public protector.
And don’t be too hasty to want to involve the president in this: the argument about who Madonsela reports to fermented because even she wasn’t sure who to hand the Nkandla report to‚ as it directly involved Zuma‚ the official who normally receives these documents. It’s a scrap involving the executive‚ the legislature and arguably the most muscular of the Section 9 institutions — it seems inevitable that they will soon complete the set by inviting the judiciary to referee the tussle.
It seems to me that as much as Madonsela may have legitimate concerns about capacity and skill in government‚ the public protector is a constitutional instrument that ultimately reports to the people it serves.
Even a giant-feller like her‚ public appeal notwithstanding‚ has to account to somebody. © BDlive 2013