Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane should be given a chance to prove her mettle, her parliamentary backers say –- but the Democratic Alliance (DA) remains resolute the new Public Protector is unfit for the job, parliamentarians told The Huffington Post South Africa on Wednesday.
Their comments come after a number of reports have surfaced about senior staff being sent packing by Mkhwebane, cases against the Office of the Public Protector brought before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), and one staffer left stranded in Durban allegedly on Mkhwebane's orders.
She seems to have worked hard to distance herself from her popular predecessor, Advocate Thuli Madonsela and hasn't indicated yet whether she will oppose President Jacob Zuma's challenge to the Public Protector's "State of Capture" report.
It's too early on to pass judgementFloyd Shivambu
Floyd Shivambu, MP from the Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF), who supported Mkhwebane's nomination during the parliamentary process, says his party believes she should get a fighting chance.
"We'll see what is her attitude to those who violate the ethics code and to those who have got power. It's too early on to pass judgement and we do not know what are the reasons for dealing with her staff the way she has. We can't pass judgement yet."
He added that she was yet to release a report as Public Protector, which would be a better yardstick to measure her performance.
With reference to staff leaving, Shivambu said it was normal practice for new managers organising an office to fit his or her needs. "They want to create an environment that helps them deliver ... so I don't know what are the reasons. It's too early to pass judgement."
He said the litmus test would be when she has to investigate powerful political figures. "Let's wait for her judgement and her rulings ... then we will know that she is credible: if she is able to stand up to the establishment."
We will be watching her very carefullySteve Swart
His sentiments were echoed by Steve Swart, veteran MP from the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and longtime member of the portfolio committee on justice. Swart did however say reports that surfaced about Mkhwebane's management of the Public Protector's office "are worrying".
"We will be watching her very carefully and we will be asking her about these reports once she appears in front of the justice committee when Parliament resumes. I did believe she was the most suitable candidate; she had an excellent interview and impressed when she defended the previous Public Protector's report into the SABC in front of the ad hoc committee into the public broadcaster," Swart said.
Swart explained there were no queries from any party, including the DA, when Mkhwebane was shortlisted on the list of five candidates. "It was only at the last minute that the DA registered their objection."
He added her history as analyst for the State Security Agency (SSA) was not something that made him uneasy, saying there were other candidates who previously also worked for the SSA. "We must remember she also worked for the Public Protector as a provincial manager."
"The other opposition parties have had the wool pulled over their eyes by the ANC."Glynnis Breytenbach
Glynnis Breytenbach, DA MP and a former senior state advocate, said her party was "unfortunately" proven correct in their assessment of Mkhwebane. "The other opposition parties have had the wool pulled over their eyes by the ANC. Their strategy in hindsight is now pretty clear, offering Mkhwebane as a compromise candidate and then getting what they want."
She says the other parties represented on the committee –- the EFF, ACDP, Inkatha Freedom Party and National Freedom Party –- were persuaded by the ANC to "give Mkhwabane the benefit of the doubt".
"This office is much too important to select someone on the basis of 'giving them the benefit of the doubt'. This was one of the last institutions not captured, now it, too, has been captured."
The African National Congress (ANC) in Parliament have repeatedly expressed their support for Mkhwebane, saying she is fully qualified, has the experience and has the support of the majority of parties in Parliament.
This is what members of the parliamentary committee into the appointment of the new Public Protector had to say when discussing Mkhwebane's nomination:
Sibusiso Mncwabe (National Freedom Party): "She would be able to do exactly what the current public protector was doing: to protect the public and ensure the office itself got the recognition it deserved. I fully support this candidate."
Grace Tseke (ANC) proposed that Mkhwebane be nominated. She said this because although she was the youngest of the five shortlisted, her CV spoke volumes and she was a woman.
Chris Msimang (Inkatha Freedom Party) reminded members that he was the person who nominated Mkhwebane and upon hearing the comments, he felt as if he should pat himself on the back for doing a good job. He endorsed every word said about her so far.
Nick Koornhof (ANC) commended Msimang for proposing Mkhwebane but, for the record, she was not the youngest candidate. There was no doubt she had a good CV and excelled at the interview – he was very comfortable that she would be a good candidate.
Refiloe Mothapo (ANC) thought Mkhwebane conducted an impeccable interview, was very mature emotionally and, among the women, she was the best.
Bongani Bongo (ANC) outlined Mkhwebane worked for the Public Protector in the past so she understood the issues of the office. Her experience at the department of home affairs exposed her to issues such as audits.
Werner Horn (DA) said one aspect that was problematic was that she did not really give a good explanation why she left the position of director at home affairs to become a mere analyst at the State Security Agency (SSA). Her answer was that she was "just so passionate about the Constitution" that she felt the SSA was the best place for her to go and protect the Constitution.
Patrick Maesela (ANC) felt the committee should place value judgements aside as they were informed by subjective moral and aesthetic values. Members should try to be objective in the process and to judge according to what was known and what was there instead of expectations. He thought Mkhwebane was a fit and proper person
Julius Malema (EFF) If she was indeed close to President Jacob Zuma, he said, she should run away from such things and concentrate on the Public Protector to serve the people of South Africa. He agreed that she be recommended.
Glynnis Breytenbach's (DA) Of greatest concern was that she changed jobs from a reasonably high-flying position at home affairs as director to a relatively low-level position in SSA as an analyst. She also received the same tip-off as Malema about Mkhwebane's connection to Zuma, and this was also of deep concern. Mkhwebane could not provide even a "remotely satisfactory" answer for her change in jobs, and for this reason Breytenbach could not support her as a candidate.
Steve Swart (ACDP) agreed that her changing of jobs from a director at home affairs to an analyst in SSA was concerning and that she could not answer the questions in this regard – this would have to borne in mind. Having said this, Mkhwebane was probably the candidate with the broadest consensus across political lines and this was an important issue in finding a consensus candidate.
Phumzile van Damme (DA) thought there was no dispute that Mkhwebane gave an excellent interview and she was quite encouraged that a young female did so well in an interview, but she was very uncomfortable with her experience.
Floyd Shivambu (EFF) noted that in the judgment that settled the remedial action powers of the Public Protector, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said the Public Protector was the embodiment of the biblical David. He hoped the rumours of Mkhwebane's political connection to high-level office bearers would not make her a biblical Goliath because it would bring her down.
Source: the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG).