The Public Protector got it all wrong, says Helen Zille

Helen Zille plans to take on Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Helen Zille plans to take on Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Image: FILE

Western Cape premier Helen Zille said on Wednesday that public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane had erred in her findings that she had abused her power in assisting her son, Paul Maree, in getting the provincial education department to lend him equipment to teach mathematics to Khayelitsha learners in 2014.

In a statement issued after the finding was released on Wednesday, Zille said: "The Public Protector has, once again, reflected her severely limited understanding of the Constitution and the law, and I will, yet again, be taking her finding against me on review to the High Court.

"Apart from the legal errors in the report, part of the remedial action proposed is also unlawful. This is another reason why I will take the report on a full review," Zille said.

Zille maintained that there was no conflict of interest between her role as premier and the fact that she supported her son in order to run free matric preparation workshops in disadvantaged schools.

"Insofar as there may have been a perception of a conflict of interest, I fulfilled the requirements of the law in mitigating it," she said.

"I wish to stress that if I faced the same situation today, as I did then, in 2014, I would do exactly the same because it was the right thing to do. The director-general of the province, Advocate Brent Gerber, would also do the same thing again, because it was entirely lawful, constitutional, and appropriate in the circumstances," she added.

Zille clarified that her son had given the free matric revision programmes for the short October school holidays ahead of the final examinations, and that had he not received the tablets required, he would have had to cancel the workshops.

"I thought it would be a pity if they did not go ahead, particularly for the learners. I mentioned this to the director-general of the province at my normal weekly meeting where I raise a range of public queries I have received. The DG reminded me that the Western Cape education department had acquired tablets precisely for this kind of usage, in a Cabinet mandated programme, and that they were due to be delivered at the beginning of the fourth term," Zille said.

"I asked whether they were potentially available for use during the holidays for the free matric mathematics revision, which would be in everyone’s interests, especially the learners. On enquiring, the DG established that 150 had already arrived and would be available through the Western Cape Education Department," she added.

Zille said her son had contacted the department himself and had arranged to borrow the tablets for the workshops.

She said all the tablets were returned at the end of the holiday after the programme.

"Everyone benefited. There was no cost involved, no conflict of interest involved, and the feedback was very good," Zille said.

"The law and the Public Service Commission distinguishes between a conflict of interest (where a public interest contradicts a private interest), and a congruence of interest, where there is no conflict involved. The latter was the case in this situation," she said.

Zille claimed to have emailed the DG and other officials in which she had suggested that the tablets be made available to anyone else wishing to use them.

She said she had done this in order to ensure that she or her son were not receiving any special treatment that would not be awarded to anyone else.

In her findings, however, Mkhwebane said: "The premier’s involvement in the process that has resulted in securing access to the tablets in question by her son‚ and in the acquiring of the son’s company’s services and resources‚ has exposed her to the risk of a conflict between her official responsibilities as a first citizen of the province and private interests which involved her son.

"This has consequently resulted in the violation of her constitutional obligation to avoid an exposure to the aforesaid."

Mkhwebane said the rule of law had to be applied to every citizen in the country‚ and that Zille’s conduct had given her son an "unfair advantage".

Mkhwebane has ordered that the speaker of the Western Cape legislature "within 30 working days from the date of the report … take appropriate action to hold the premier accountable".

President Cyril Ramaphosa must submit his comment on the report within 14 days of receiving it.

The investigation originated from a complaint made by Cameron Dugmore‚ the ANC’s candidate for the position of Western Cape premier. He initially alleged that Zille had advanced her son’s business interests with the procurement of tablets for the Western Cape education department.

These allegations were not proven during Mkhwebane’s investigation.

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