Lockdown delays can’t save the Public Protector, argues DA
The coronavirus outbreak -- and subsequent lockdown -- has delayed parliamentary proceedings concerning Busisiwe Mkhwebane's removal.
Parliamentary proceedings aimed at defining protocol for the removal of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane should not be delayed due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
This is the latest argument put forward by Democratic Alliance (DA) Chief Whip, Natasha Mazzone, who, on Wednesday, confirmed that an official request for information had been lodged with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise.
Mkhwebane, who has been spared further scandal since the coronavirus’ arrival on South African shores, has been accused of political meddling and grievous incompetence. The Public Protector was dealt consecutive courtroom blows in 2019, with almost each judgement labelling Mkhwebane’s investigate approach as flawed or, even worse, unconstitutional.
Lockdown buys Mkhwebane more time
As a result, the official opposition party embarked on a parliamentary mission to see Mkhwebane removed from office. The DA’s proposal was accepted by Modise on 26 February 2020. Shortly afterwards, ironically on the same day listed as parliament’s deadline for independent panel nominations, the first registered case of COVID-19 was reported in KwaZulu-Natal.
Three weeks later, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nationwide lockdown which would be governed by regulations of the Disaster Management Act. For weeks, the country struggled to adjust to the stringent social distancing protocols; parliamentary proceedings weren’t spared from the disruptions, either.
Mazzone has, however, argued that since parliament had recently resumed service, holding daily committee meetings via virtual conference calls, proceedings to determine Mkhwebane’s competence and fitness to hold office should suffer no further delays. Mazzone said:
“While the COVID-19 crisis inevitably postponed the process, Parliament has been open for two weeks now, and numerous committee meetings are in full swing on important issues other than the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DA submits that the coronavirus cannot be held up as an excuse and the removal proceedings against the Public Protector should, therefore, continue without any further delays.”
In the letter submitted to Modise, Mazzone requested an updates on the following four points:
- the appointment process of the panel
- when the process will be finalised
- who the chosen experts are
- when the panel will meet for the first time
What is the Public Protector up to during lockdown?
Despite the lockdown lull, Mkhwebane has been kept busy with complaints relating to the controversial Beitbridge border fence. The fence, which was constructed amid the outbreak to prevent illegal immigration and cross-border contamination, was requested by the Department of Defence and Veterans at a cost of R37 million.
While its hefty price tag already raised eyebrows, and brought Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille under the microscope, the fence’s poor structural integrity, and subsequent failure to curb border-jumping, has received widespread condemnation.
Mkhwebane confirmed that her office was actively investigating allegations of maladministration and procurement irregularities concerning the border fence which has been mockingly dubbed the “washing line”.