Parliament: Thuli Madonsela finally gets respect, even from the ANC
What may have been Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s last appearance before the parliamentary justice committee on Thursday was a civil, polite occasion that stood in stark contrast to their previous engagements. A week to the day after the landmark Constitutional Court Nkandla judgment found President Jacob Zuma and the National Assembly failed their constitutional duties, ANC MPs drew a line: the meeting would be about the office of the public protector’s budget, nothing else. It was an ironic role reversal with the opposition parties who made that call at a particularly bruising committee meeting almost a year ago. By MARIANNE MERTEN.
It will all come down to when the justice committee schedules the public protector briefing on the office’s annual report. Before 14 October, Madonsela will return to make her final presentation; after that date, it’ll be somebody else. Her non-renewable seven-year term ends that day.
Who the next public protector will be is up to the justice committee, which interviews nominated candidates and makes its recommendation. As of now, no adverts for the job have been published. With MPs going on “constituency period” from mid-May to return after the 3 August municipal poll, there could be a severe time crunch, with just over two months to find a new public protector.
While Madonsela remains firmly in charge of a team she often praises for their commitment and hard work, her thoughts slowly are starting to turn to: What next?
“I’ll take a 15-month holiday,” she smiled when Daily Maverickasked her. Firmly on the agenda are postgraduate studies in the field of social justice were she’d “like to build on levelling the playing fields”. Short courses at Harvard in the US are on offer; opportunities in the UK are also being explored.
Describing Thursday’s interaction with MPs as “professional” and “productive”, Madonsela said she hoped a new path had been charted. Several of those who accompanied her to the parliamentary committee indicated their hope that no other public protector should ever be treated like she had been.
Outside Parliament, Madonsela has been called a “spy” and a “CIA plant”. In Parliament she was accused of “overstepping boundaries” and “misleading the nation” with regards to the “Secure in Comfort” report which found Zuma had “unduly” benefitted from, and should repay, a reasonable determined percentage of the costs of non-security upgrades at Nkandla.
The ANC-dominated parliamentary Nkandla ad hoc committee refused to allow her to appear before it to discuss the report. A year ago, justice committee chairman Mathole Motshekga repeatedly interrupted her presentation and, after opposition parties intervened, said “the hearing was wasted by your supporters in the DA”, echoing earlier ANC sentiments.
Thursday’s meeting could not have been more different.
Dismissing a DA proposal for the committee to apologise for previous behaviour, Motshekga said there was no need to revive “old disputes”, nor the Constitutional Court judgment to which the committee was not party. “We don’t want to bring political disputes into this meeting… Here we want to deal with the matters before us (the budget),” he said.
And the ANC largely stuck to that, asking about the public protector’s network of offices countrywide, and whether ubuntushould not be an overarching value, not just one among several, and the use of consultants. Except ANC MP Chana Pilane-Majeke, who cautioned Madonsela not to respond to opposition parties’ questions related to various (Nkandla-related) debates. “Don’t be tempted to respond to any of the National Assembly debates… Even some people of state employees illegally driving state cars and crashing it… Do not go there,” she said in a thinly veiled dig about Madonsela’s son crashing her official car four years ago. She was firmly ruled out of order.
But serious financial headaches remain for the office established in the Constitution to support democracy by investigating improper conduct in state affairs to provide remedy for even the poorest. While a series of high-profile cases have captured headlines, every year the office receives well over 20,000 complaints.
Madonsela asked MPs not only to approve her plans for this year’s R263.3-million budget, but that the office should get more money. An extra R30-million more was requested, although the public protector could easily do with a further R85-million to boost training (R11-million), an electronic case management system (R54-million) and to boost investigative capacity (R20-million). Skimping had cleared the deficit, but that meant closing some of the regional offices, although mobile clinics are increasingly used, and being able to take on only 36 instead of the envisaged 100 trainee investigators.
Under the 2009 Money Bills Amendment and Related Matters Act, Parliament may change Budget allocations.
And given the Nkandla matter, specific funds for litigation may be needed. In the past year, an unprecedented 18 public protector findings were contested. With last week’s Constitutional Court ruling that only a court could review public protector findings and remedial action, more are expected.
Just two days ago, MPs were told, a municipality that previously had accepted findings, said it would now contest these – reasons to follow. Daily Maverick
Photo: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela (Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick)