News / South Africa

Ilse de Lange
3 minute read
26 Apr 2018
12:21 pm

Evidence presented that Mkhwebane protected ‘corrupt’ Ace and others

Ilse de Lange

The Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution alleges the public protector has been complicit in clearing corruption.

Public Protector Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane is seen during a press briefing held at her offices, 4 December 2017, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Lobby group the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) has accused Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane of deliberately curtailing her investigation into the Gupta-linked Vrede dairy farm project and altering a report by her predecessor to protect senior politicians.

Casac said in a statement it would now not only seek a court order to set aside the report as unconstitutional and unlawful, but also an order declaring that Mkhwebane had failed to discharge her constitutional duties and a personal punitive costs order against her.

The group said it appeared from the record of the decision that Mkhwebane had deliberately curtailed the investigation and had acted in a manner inconsistent with the demands of an independent office.

Casac has accused Mkhwebane of ignoring the contents of reports regarding the involvement of the Gupta family in the project “and thus clear corruption”.

Casac’s executive secretary Lawson Naidoo said in a supplementary affidavit the record revealed that a National Treasury report, which had previously not been made public, pointed to the active involvement of senior politicians –  former Free State Premier Ace Magashule and former agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane – in facilitating the unlawful project.

The report recommended that disciplinary action be taken against the head of the agriculture department, Peter Thabethe, and its chief financial officer, Seipati Dlhamini, but no such action was ever taken and Mkhwebane simply ignored this in her final report.

Naidoo said it also appeared that Mkhwebane’s predecessor, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, had published a provisional report on the Vrede project, but Mkhwebane had altered that report in fundamental ways “in what is difficult to understand as anything other than a deliberate attempt to protect officials such as Thabethe and Magashule … from further investigation and sanction”.

In her provisional report, Madonsela found Thabethe was guilty of improper conduct, abuse of power and maladministration, yet Mkhwebane’s report removed the specific reference to Thabethe.

Madonsela recommended a proper forensic investigation and audit by the Auditor-General to verify all expenditure incurred in the project and whether there was value for money, but Nairobi said this was inexplicably excised from Mkhwebane’s final report.

In addition, Madonsela recommended that the Special Investigating Unit should conduct a forensic investigation into maladministration, improper conduct by the departmental officials and the unlawful expenditure of public funds, which was also removed from Mkhwebane’s final report.

“In the absence of any explanation from the Public Protector, Casac submits that the only possible inference, which the Court should not hesitate to draw, is that she deliberately curtailed the Report’s findings and remedial action in an effort to protect Department officials, and thereby acted for an improper purpose and in bad faith,” Naidoo charged.

Casac has also questioned Mkhwebane’s motives for not opposing their application and pleading that she would abide by the court’s decision, saying it appeared to be “a feeble attempt to avoid having to explain the inconsistencies between the provisional and final reports and her motives for sanitising Madonsela’s provisional report”.

Casac said it no longer sought to compel the Public Protector to investigate the complicity of senior political figures as she “could not be trusted to do so”.

The group also accused Mkhwebane of misleading Parliament by indicating that she would institute an investigation into the politicians involve dn the project without disclosing that she had amended Madonsela’s provisional report to specifically exclude them from further scrutiny.