25/06/2018 05:30 BST | Updated 25/06/2018 05:30 BST

Mkhwebane's Critics Must Prove 'Incompetence' – Mthembu

"Anyone who says the Public Protector is no longer fit needs to prove to all of us that the Public Protector is incompetent and, through evidence, unable to run that office."

Moeletsi Mabe/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu says critics of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane must provide evidence of her supposed "incompetence" if they want her removed from office.

Mthembu held a press briefing in Parliament on Thursday to deliver a summary of the party's performance during the first half of 2018.

During a round of questions, Mthembu was asked what the ANC's stance was in the ongoing process in the justice portfolio committee to review Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office.

"The ANC will not go against the [Public Protector] Act that has created that office. Anyone who says the Public Protector is no longer fit needs to prove to all of us that the Public Protector is incompetent and, through evidence, unable to run that office."

He said there were three very distinct reasons over which the Public Protector's performance can be reviewed: gross misconduct, incapacity or incompetence.

Mthembu questioned the onslaught of criticism heaped on Mkhwebane following high-profile court judgments against some of her reports.

'Where is the evidence?'

"If a court of law finds Jackson Mthembu guilty of a particular crime, and he takes it to the appeal court... and that court says, 'no, no he is not guilty'.

"By this definition, should we also find that the lower court was incompetent? It can't be correct. That's why we have all these safeguards in the Constitution."

So far, Mkhwebane has not been proven to be incompetent, he said.

"The safeguard is there for all institutions to impact on their decisions. Their decisions can be reviewed, and does not necessarily make the Public Protector not fit to hold office. That is my view."

Mthembu said that they would "of course" support any proven evidence that, notwithstanding all the safeguards, Mkhwebane was incompetent.

"But we must still prove [it]," he added.

The portfolio committee meanwhile agreed on Wednesday to wait for a reply from Mkhwebane before deciding on whether to green-light a request to hold an inquiry into her fitness to hold office.

Ramaphosa has 'done well'

Mthembu praised his party's work at the half-way mark of the legislative year.

The National Assembly goes into recess from Friday, and only returns in mid-August, between three and four weeks later than usual.

The chief whip said the extended break was to move "closer to a 50-50 split" between time spent with constituencies and in Parliament.

He admitted that the extended break will likely not be the norm in other years, adding fuel that the decision had one eye on the looming 2019 general elections.

Mthembu also praised the passing of 13 bills since February, including the national minimum wage bill.

He also praised the new President Cyril Ramaphosa since his election in February, saying that he has "done well" so far.

"He has promised to deal with any matters that smack of corruption. And from where we are seated, we think he has delivered on that promise.

"We are seeing some state-owned-entities where there were indications of wrongdoing, and not only Eskom, where new boards, CEOs and COOs are being installed.

"This is indeed a step in the right direction."

'No divisions in ANC caucus'

As for his own caucus, Mthembu admitted that they had some problems prior to Ramaphosa's election in February.

Tensions have quietened though since then, with Mthembu even claiming there were "no divisions in caucus" in the first place.

"The election of a new leadership has not necessarily improved any divisions that were not there.

"Yes, I would agree with you that there were incidents of ill-discipline, but those have been resolved."

He did not want to go into detail on which incidents he meant when pressed by journalists.

He conceded that some of the members stepped "way out of line".

Some of the incidents included five ANC MPs demanding former portfolio committee chairperson Makhosi Khoza be removed from her position during a meeting; another five appearing on ANN7 to slam one of Mthembu's decisions, and accusations of misconduct and assault against a handful of male MPs, including Mduduzi Manana and Mervyn Dirks.