'We can’t please everyone,' Mkhwebane tells MPs at fiery meeting

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane says her decisions can’t please everyone.
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane says her decisions can’t please everyone.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has told parliament that no matter what her office did, someone would be unhappy.

She said every person in the republic had their own ideas as to how the public protector's work should be done.

“If we take decisions they do not like, we are incompetent, biased, involved in political factionalism and not fit for office. It is almost as though everyone is a public protector in their own right.

"We can’t please everyone. We can only do our best,” she said.

Mkhwebane did not hold back as she appeared before the National Assembly's justice portfolio committee to which her office accounts. She was there to table the annual performance plan and her office's budget plans.

During her appearance she also complained about ministers who attacked her office and her person by accusing her of venturing into politics.

She said the reality was that some of her office's decisions would not go down well with some of the affected parties, but such parties have recourse in that they can approach a court of law to have the decisions reviewed - and many had done that.

“But we find that this process is severely misunderstood.

“There are certain quarters in society who seem to believe that to have a report taken on review is an indication of ineptitude on the part of the author of the report concerned. It gets worse if that report is eventually reviewed and set aside by the courts,” she said.

She repeated an argument she’s previously made that court decisions are appealed successfully all the time.

“Strangely, when this happens, we never hear the high courts being accused of a lot of things we have been criticised for.

“We have taken it upon ourselves to continuously explain to detractors, hoping that one day we will all see things from the same perspective,” she said.

The meeting got heated as MPs discussed her contribution, with the ANC's Richard Dyantyi criticising her for raising “irrelevant” issues.

“This which you have just presented is a presentation of a public protector who is very angry and aggrieved.... Basically, who is raising issues that don't necessarily live in this committee; they should not be here,” he said while suggesting that Mkhwebane could have addressed her grievances in a press statement, not in parliament.

“I was disappointed that more than seven slides [as part of her presentation] … where you were really offloading the kind of disappointment that you have, and I thought that was irrelevant to be honest,” he added.

Dyantyi also attacked the office for what he called “budgeting for incompetence”.

He said an increase in legal fees had to do with the quality of the reports, which are taken on review and set aside.

“Here we have to budget for incompetence. I will use that word. You've said you are being called incompetent and on the basis of facts and evidence before us, I think I can venture into that,” he said.

But EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi begged to differ.

He praised Mkhwebane for “admirable” service to the country and “very competent” work of her office. Ndlozi literally applauded at the end of Mkhwebane's address.

He objected to other MPs who questioned Mkhwebane about her reports, some of her recommendations and the processes she followed, saying this was abuse of power.

“It's wrong for MPs, who were colleagues of ministers [Pravin Gordhan and Gwede Mantashe] to come here and want to subject the reports of the public protector to a review. That's what they are doing,” he warned.

“Now she must come here and explain her reports; details of her reports, many of which are in front of the courts...”

Ndlozi warned that MPs were setting a dangerous precedent for people who have been investigated by the public protector to, instead of going to court for a judicial review, ask MPs to question Mkhwebane about her reports.

“It is wrong and an abuse of power to come here and subject this office to have to explain itself in relation to reports it releases about your colleagues in parliament,” he added.

Mkhwebane explained that she raised the issues because the MPs were new and she was taking them into confidence about challenges facing her institution.

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