Thando Nondlwana

By Thando Nondywana

News Reporter

Mkhwebane’s relationship with candidates creates apprehension of bias – advisor

Committee halts deputy public protector selection amid concerns over independence, prompting debate on political influence.

The portfolio committee on justice and correctional services’ decision to halt the process to find a new deputy public protector reflects a broader commitment to upholding the rule of law and ensuring the independence of crucial oversight mechanisms.

Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) MP and former public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane came under fire on Tuesday for failure to declare historical ties with advocate Shadrack Tebeile and Ponatshego Mogaladi, who were interviewed.

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Despite objections and concerns raised by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the ANC about a potential conflict of interest, Mkhwebane took part in the interviews for deputy public protector last month.

Political analyst Ntsikelelo Breakfast said Mkhwebane’s omission of her relationship seemed like an attempt to use parliamentary processes indirectly for other conflicts – which undermines the credibility of the process.

‘Keep the process clean’

“She has to recuse herself. If they are going to send the person with the conflict of interest, then it brings the whole process into jeopardy. She still holds views of the institution even in terms of who must hold the position.

“It is better to keep the process clean from influences to get an objective, balanced perspective in terms of choice,” he said.

Breakfast said the decision was likely to dent public perception and the ability of the committee to carry out its mandate effectively.

“The institution as it stands, is one of the Chapter 9 institutions which are meant to support our democracy [by] strengthening it,” he said.

“It’s very important; now it has become a political issue because we have people who are embroiled in these fights using that institution. That has a major impact on the public perception and integrity of the portfolio committee and the public protector’s office.”

Parliamentary legal adviser Zingisa Zenani warned that Mkhwebane’s relationship with the two candidates created an apprehension of bias, citing she should have recused herself from the start of the interview processes.

READMkhwebane’s ‘conflict of interest’ derails deputy public protector search

The committee resolved to submit a report to the National Assembly, citing reasons for the failure, and will recommend that parliament appoint an ad hoc committee to restart the process, as it cannot proceed further with the matter in its current state.

North-West University Prof André Duvenhage said the decision sheds light on the intricate balance between political oversight and institutional independence within the realm of public office appointments.

He stressed the need for a clear differentiation between administration on the one side and politics on the other.

“Any political influence of any sort is problematic. There should be a clear differentiation between the political interests on the one side and the interests of the system, as it should be an independent process.

“The big problem we experience is because we mix these two things and this is a major area of concern. This leads to issues, especially where politicians appoint administrative officials and can influence processes.”

The Economic Freedom Fight-ers (EFF) rejected the committee’s decision, saying there was no legal bias, and that the decision was an exercise to exclude the EFF MP from performing their duties in parliament.

“Parliament’s legal advisors have persistently played partisan and factional roles with the aim of penalising and excluding EFF members of parliament from performing their constitutional obligations.

“This particular campaign is led by the ruling party and the DA,” the EFF said in a statement. The party has maintained that Mkhwebane as an individual has no power to sway members of the committee or parliament to either appoint or refuse to appoint any of the candidates.

“Her exclusion from the committee is simply a retributive act by those who feel offended by her presence in parliament. It is, further, a continuation of the misuse of parliamentary rules to silence and marginalise EFF MPs.”