Public protector opens contempt case against municipality speaker
A case of contempt has been opened by the public protector's office against the speaker of Dr JS Moroka Local Municipality in Mpumalanga, Dipuo Pearlygate Mahlangu.
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said in a statement on Sunday the case was opened at the Brooklyn police station in Pretoria on September 21 after Mahlangu failed to honour subpoenas to appear before the office.
Mahlangu was required to appear in relation to an investigation into the alleged irregular appointment of BM Mhlanga as acting municipal manager and allegations of maladministration levelled against him. The hearings were to have taken place virtually.
Mahlangu had undertaken to provide a written report and documents on the information she presented during an earlier meeting with the public protector on May 18.
The public protector said Mahlangu was served with subpoena notices on June 9, July 12 and September 3, to appear in person before the public protector on June 23, July 27 and September 9 respectively.
“She failed to avail herself on all three occasions. No apology was received in respect of the first hearing,” the office of the public protector said.
Regarding the second hearing, a WhatsApp text message was received from Mahlangu's office, claiming she had been admitted to hospital. However, no medical certificate was provided and the name of the hospital was not specified.
“On the last attempt, an aide of Ms Mahlangu's contacted the public protector, informing the office that the speaker could not attend as she had been summoned to Nelspruit by the ANC.”
In terms of the Public Protector Act, the public protector has the power to direct any person to submit an affidavit or to appear before her to give evidence or produce any document in their possession or under their control, which has a bearing on a matter under investigation.
The law provides that any person who, without just cause, refuses or fails to comply with a request or refuses to answer questions put to them shall be guilty of an offence.
Mkhwebane said unlike ordinary investigation meeting requests, a subpoena carries with it legal implications and that, absent just cause, witnesses are compelled to comply with its provisions or face legal consequences.
“State functionaries need to understand that they are not entitled to opt in or out of our investigations at will.
“The constitution of the republic enjoins other organs of state to support and assist the public protector to ensure the institution's independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness,” she said.
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