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Yet another postponement for Mkhwebane's impeachment inquiry

Andisiwe Makinana Political correspondent
Suspended public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.
Suspended public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.
Image: Leila Dougan

The resumption of the parliamentary inquiry into suspended public protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office was postponed on Monday.

The inquiry was set to resume with Mkhwebane continuing her oral evidence, which was halted at the end of March when funding for her legal representation ran out.

After two months of no hearings, the committee for the section 194 inquiry adopted a new programme last Friday, with committee members vowing not to waste any more time and to work towards concluding the process.

But parliament issued a statement saying the meeting planned for Monday has been postponed due to Mkhwebane’s legal team not being ready to continue with the hearings.

The next meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Inquiry legal adviser Fatima Ebrahim confirmed to the committee on Friday that a new legal team, Chaane Attorneys, has been appointed by the solicitor-general to represent Mkhwebane after her previous team withdrew from the process.

Parliament had previously heard Mkhwebane had indicated she wanted to retain Mpofu as her counsel.

In a letter dated June 4 to inquiry chair Richard Dyantyi, Hope Chaane, the MD of Chaane Attorneys requested the inquiry be postponed indefinitely as his firm was not ready to proceed. There were also outstanding issues he wanted the committee to address before he could brief Mpofu, he said.

Chaane said parliament only gave his firm access to a Dropbox with voluminous documents on June 1 and they had not fully considered the documents for them to adequately advise their client, instruct counsel and prepare for the inquiry.

He said they were only informed on Friday afternoon of the Monday morning hearing which was not sufficient time to prepare for the appearance.

Furthermore, Chaane said, they could not formally brief counsel without, at the minimum:

  • the attorneys being in a position to understand the scope of the work and give instructions to counsel;
  • clarification of the R4m cap and payment terms was received;
  • the client agreeing or committing to foot the bill once the R4m dries up; and
  • agreement on the duration of the remainder of the inquiry against the dictates of fairness and the terms of reference, directives, as well as the applicable rules.

He said counsel’s briefs will only be sent out once all the above issues have been addressed.

Chaane also objected to the publishing of Mpofu’s fees “while the negations are under way” labelling this as “gratuitous and malicious”. He said this was unfair as questions about the fees paid to evidence leaders have gone unanswered.

In response, Dyantyi said he had difficulty accepting the assertion that Chaane will need to familiarise himself with the content of the drop box to brief counsel.

“To the extent that you may have been instructed by Adv Mkhwebane to do so, it may lend itself to the impression that this is designed to create further deliberate inordinate delays aimed at depleting the R4m in unnecessary and reckless perusal fees being incurred.

“This would be incomprehensible given that Adv Mkhwebane is well aware that, we are at the tail-end of the inquiry and that she has committed her evidence to writing under oath already and the issues on which the committee is to be guided have been crystallised,” said Dyantyi.

“As such, neither she nor the committee would be served by indiscriminate perusal of the Dropbox.”

With regard to Chaane’s questions about the R4m cap, Dyantyi said Chaane had more than sufficient time to engage with the state attorney on the terms of his appointment and other issues related to costs and any delay due to his failure to do so could not be placed at the committee’s door or cause delays in the inquiry process.

Dyantyi said instead of asking who pays if or when the R4m is depleted, Chaane should be asking himself, Mpofu and Mkhwebane how to ensure she is properly represented within the budget.

He warned Chaane if Mkhwebane’s counsel does not appear with her on Wednesday, the committee will proceed in their absence.

The committee heard on Friday Mpofu had agreed to return to the process on condition he could retain his two junior counsel and at increased daily rates.


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