Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

Mkhwebane impeachment hearings: Parliament concerned about treatment of witnesses

The impeachment hearings are expected to resume next Wednesday.

A numbers of issues were raised during a parliamentary meeting on Wednesday, including the “bullying” of witnesses at Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s impeachment hearings.

The Section 194 Committee convened a meeting to discuss how the inquiry executes its mandate, among other things, after seven days of the impeachment hearings in parliament.

Mkhwebane is the first head of a Chapter 9 institution to face a parliamentary inquiry

‘Lack of regard’

With some witnesses having already testified, the committee raised concern over the treatment of those who took to the stand – which MPs were seemingly divided on – as well as Mkhwebane’s reluctance to answer questions posed to her during the proceedings.

“Members were concerned about the manner in which Mkhwebane had responded to the committee’s questions so far and the time allocated for her to do so at a later stage,” the committee’s chairperson Qubudile Dyantyi said in a statement on Wednesday.

“They were also concerned about the lack of regard with which witnesses have been treated by some of those involved in the process, as well as the time taken up by the questioning of witnesses.

ALSO READ: ‘Public will hear from me and judge for themselves’ – Mkhwebane on inquiry into her fitness to hold office

“The committee resolved that these three directives require stronger enforcement to ensure that its processes run more smoothly and its work is credible and fair,” he further said.

On Tuesday, former Public Protector investigator Tebogo Kekana was called a liar by Mkhwebane’s legal counsel, advocate Dali Mpofu, after he gave damning evidence about the Public Protector’s involvement in amending the constitutional mandate of the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) instructed by State Security Agency (SSA) officials.

Mpofu was cross-examining Kekana, with the advocate accusing the senior investigator of gossiping about Mkhwebane.

The advocate also argued that Kekana was retaliating against Mkhwebane because he was fired for “dishonesty”.

‘Double jeopardy’

Meanwhile, Dyantyi said there should be a “balancing act” for everyone involved in the hearings in order for the process to be fair.

“It’s a fine balancing act. We understand that witnesses must be cross-examined. We further understand the rights of witnesses, the members of the committee, the evidence leaders and that of the Public Protector and her legal team.

“We need to balance the rights and responsibilities, and navigate them in such a way as to ensure a credible process,” he said.

READ MORE: Ramaphosa hits back at Holomisa, won’t testify at Mkhwebane’s impeachment hearing

The chairperson also reiterated that there was no possibility that the committee or parliament can make a finding on civil or criminal liability against Mkhwebane, adding that the Public Protector was not at risk of “double jeopardy”.

Wednesday’s meeting further resolved that the committee’s draft programme should remain flexible to accommodate any time lost that needs to be made up at a later stage.

While the impeachment hearings will resume next Wednesday, the committee is expecting to finalise its work by the end of September.

In another matter, National Assembly Speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has advised Dyantyi to seek a legal opinion on the alleged possible conflict of interest by Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Kevin Mileham, who is part of the Section 194 committee.

This comes after Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) chief whip Floyd Shivambu wrote to Mapisa-Nqakula, asking the Speaker to intervene.

Mileham is married to DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone, who tabled a motion for Mkhwebane’s removal from office in December 2019.

READ MORE: Mkhwebane attending impeachment hearing ‘under protest’, Mpofu tells parly

“The Speaker wrote to the chairperson to ensure that the committee requests the Parliamentary Legal Services to provide a legal opinion on the possible conflict of interest by the involvement of Mr [Kevin] Mileham in the proceedings of the committee as envisaged in Rule 165 or any applicable law,” parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said on Wednesday night.

According to TimesLIVE, parliamentary legal advisor Fatima Ibrahim has already poured cold water on the EFF’s request.

“We disagree with that. It’s unexceptional that political parties represented in the National Assembly and their representatives would express strong views on any matter.

“The point remains that in this process, members need to apply their minds rationally to the fact to find whether the Public Protector has indeed misconducted or is incompetent as alleged,” Ibrahim reportedly said.

Additional reporting by Lunga Simelane