Axed Public Protector South Africa (PPSA) COO, Basani Baloyi, says Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, as well as CEO Vussy Mahlangu, acted unconstitutionally during investigations of certain complaints.
“The CEO and the Public Protector were both willing to abuse their offices to advance their own personal agendas. Their behaviour related to both the content of the report, and the timing of release,” she said in an affidavit challenging her dismissal.
Baloyi was dismissed last month, and three other senior officials were suspended in a sweeping purge by Mkhwebane.
Baloyi’s attorney, Eric Mabuza, told News24 that her dismissal was “completely unlawful” and has since taken the matter to court.
However, Baloyi maintains that there is more to her dismissal than meets the eye.
She claimed Mahlangu repeatedly interfered in investigations, which also led to her axing.
“The real reason [for the dismissal] was that I refused to go along with the attempts by the CEO and the Public Protector to manipulate and abuse their offices for their own personal gain,” she said.
“The CEO and the Public Protector regularly manipulated the investigation process in order to suit their own ends. I regularly objected to the CEO interfering in investigation, and to the Public Protector manipulating the timing or content of reports for her own ends.”
Public Protector spokesperson Oupa Segalwe, however, says this is false, adding that “investigations happen at an arm’s length from him”.
Baloyi said in her affidavit that she found the way Mkhwebane handled the CR17 campaign, as well as the so-called “rogue unit” cases, “extremely unusual”.
The CR17 investigation concerned a complaint by former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane about a R500 000 donation by late Bosasa boss Gavin Watson to Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign in 2017.
The other investigation concerned current Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s role in setting up a “rogue unit” within the South African Revenue Service (SARS) during his time as commissioner.
In an interview with Watson, during which Mkhwebane was present, Watson admitted that he had also donated money to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ANC presidential campaign, Baloyi said.
However, when Baloyi tried to convince Mkhwebane to widen the scope of the investigation, she was taken off the case.
Baloyi also claimed that both the SARS and CR17 reports “did not go through the ordinary process from Senior Investigator up to the Public Protector”.
She said the CR17 investigation was conducted by external investigators, “who reported directly to the Public Protector”.
“This was highly unusual,” she said, adding that it was only acceptable to use external investigators when capacity within the Public Protector’s office was lacking.
“That was not the case here. There was no legitimate reason why the complaints could not have been reviewed through the ordinary process.”
Segalwe, however, said that the matter was sensitive and called for the number of people working on the case to be reduced, while Baloyi herself was accused of revealing sensitive information and “was cautioned about that”.
He maintained that both investigations were done thoroughly and handled with care, adding that they could not broaden the scope of the CR17 investigation as Dlamini-Zuma was not a member of the executive at the time.
According to Baloyi, both reports were concluded very quickly when such investigations would take about two years to complete.
Segalwe said both complaints were lodged under the Executive Members Ethics Acts and “required that the investigations be expedited. It puts a timeframe of 30 days. The Public Protector hardly ever meets this deadline because of the complexity of the matters and due to lack of resources, but she does work hard to finalise them sooner – in compliance with that law”.
But Baloyi maintains that “these reports were completed within a few months. This caused suspicions within staff members”.
Her suspicions were aggravated when Mkhwebane allegedly sent a “disturbing” WhatsApp message to Baloyi, which she said demonstrated that Mkhwebane was playing a political game:
“COO I worked with few people to deal with the sabotage of the [Pravin Gordhan] camp. The notice is almost ready for rogue, will issue this week and report will also be issue in the manner I will determine. The notice for the President is also ready, will call him this week to discuss the notice. It is not about you but one has to play the chess,” the message read.
Baloyi said she understood the chess reference to mean “that the Public Protector was playing a political game”.
Segalwe denied this, saying “there is no truth to the claims that reports are ‘timed’ for release to achieve certain objectives”.
He added that the message did not suggest that Mkhwebane was “playing a political game”.
“The text in question was sent at the time when the subject of the investigation was dealing with the Public Protector through the media. The Public Protector’s text was therefore referring to countering that.”
However, Baloyi maintains that her axing was malicious, saying she was an “obstacle” to Mkhwebane and Mahlangu.
“Throughout all these incidents, I have either stood up to the Public Protector or the CEO, or been sidelined by them. I believe that my refusal to accede to their manipulation of powers is the real reason why they unlawfully sought to remove me as the COO.”
Segalwe, however, said it was concerning that Baloyi had not raised these matters before her dismissal.
“It is of grave concern to the Public Protector that Ms Baloyi never raised any of these issues while she was still in the employ of the office and is only bringing them up now that she no longer works for the institution, and is seemingly aggrieved about that,” he said.
– News24 Wire