Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, that persistent thorn in the side of the powers that be, has a difficult job and has been asking for a bigger budget to run her important Chapter 9 institution for a while now. She says her staff are struggling to deal with the growing case load so it’s a pity to see her treated with such disdain by the justice portfolio committee chairman, Mathole Motshekga, in a formal Parliamentary process. Many South Africans regard the Public Protector as the epitome of integrity so this story by veteran parliamentary correspondent Emsie Ferreira is well worth a read as it gives a peek into the hostility of today’s portfolio committee meeting and the ANC’s view on the institution. – Gill Moodie
By Emsie Ferreira, ANA
Relations between the ANC and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela seemingly reached a new low on Wednesday as justice portfolio committee chairman Mathole Motshekga rubbished her annual budget briefing to members, prompting opposition parties to rush to her defence and be rebuked in return.
Madonsela’s office told the committee it needed a baseline budget increase of R200 million because the current allocation of R246 million was woefully inadequate, given its growing case load.
Motshekga repeatedly interrupted the presentation to warn Madonsela that they had limited time and at the end said it had been a pointless exercise as she had failed to set out how she would address weaknesses in financial management at her office.
He said it would therefore be impossible to judge whether the Chapter 9 institution merited the committee’s backing for a budget increase demand to Treasury, and proposed that she return next Wednesday to deal with the gaps.
“Everything that the three of you have said have not addressed any of the issues raised by the committee last year as well as any of the issues raised in the Auditor-General’s report and what is happening now is that we are reminded of the structure and the need to find a structure, things that we were told last year, which means that this session has actually become meaningless.”
Madonsela responded that she had addressed issues noted by the Auditor-General and would be prepared to answer all additional questions MPs may have, as she had the information ready.
“We do have the answers right here today,” she said, and added that she would be abroad next week on a trip for which her office had already paid.
The increasingly terse exchange was interrupted by the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Werner Horn.
“Chairperson, in terms of the rules of Parliament I think you are abusing your power. The Public Protector presented as she deemed fit.
“You are presenting at this stage a view of the committee which you have not consulted with the committee at all. With all due respect, I and I think a few of my colleagues, differ in that you accuse the Public Protector of not addressing issues raised last year while I specifically noted quite a number of changes effected already by the CEO and the CFO in addressing the issues raised not only by this committee but also by the AG.
“I don’t think it is your purview now to take to task the Public Protector, you are to chair this meeting and to allow members to engage.”
Fellow DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach said she seconded his statement, and protested when Motshekga moved to adjourn the meeting to next week, prompting him to exhort her: “Just behave.”
But Steve Swart from the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) said he agreed with his DA colleagues, and it would be a waste of public funds to force Madonsela to return at a later date when all other institutions were allowed to deal with questions in writing.
Motshekga rebuked Swart for “aligning yourself with the DA”, and said if Madonsela wanted more money she needed to prove to the committee that her office could manage it.
In the end, Madonsela was given an additional quarter of an hour, and turned to findings of irregular expenditure. The bulk of the R4 million in question related to her office not getting competitive quotes from freelance staff. She said this was because they could not afford the going rate and had set and imposed a much lower tariff on applicants.
But the briefing soured again when ANC MPs suggested that she was being shielded by the DA, and Motshekga appeared to agree, when he snapped at her that time had been wasted by “your friends in the DA”.