Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said she would probably ask for an arrangement to pay back a portion of the legal costs of the SA Reserve Bank, “even if it means paying R100 every month”.
In the same breath – and despite the damning Constitutional Court judgment against her on Monday – Mkhwebane boldly repeated a comment from a previous interview that she intended to serve until her term ended in 2023.
The court granted a personal punitive cost order that Mkhwebane pay 15% of the Reserve Bank’s legal costs, estimated at R900 000, finding that she had not conducted her work in good faith and that she had not been honest.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and one other judge differed in a minority judgment.
Mkhwebane said on Friday the penalty could be lower since it would have to be demonstrated through the taxation of the bill.
“It is a question of them showing proof that indeed, when they say they consulted with a legal team for a certain number of hours, then there is proof that it did happen, and it was taxed accordingly.”
She said although she appreciated the efforts to raise the money on her behalf by sympathetic citizens, she was prepared to pay “the little which I can afford”.
She said: “It is a travesty of justice, because I am the Public Protector. I never applied for this post. I was nominated, I performed during interviews, and I was then recommended to the president, who appointed me. And that is why I say God placed me here.”
Although Mkhwebane had told City Press in a previous interview that she was “going nowhere” until her seven-year term ended in 2023, this week’s court ruling gave ammunition to calls for Parliament to probe her fitness to hold office.
Civil society organisations Corruption Watch and the Helen Suzman Foundation have written to Parliament requesting it to expedite the inquiry.
But a defiant Mkhwebane said: “I have all the evidence and it will be good because then South Africans will hear the truth.”
She said her office would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate how the work it did since she took office in October 2016 had changed the lives of ordinary people on the ground through the 34 000 complaints finalised – out of a total of 49 000.
“What is incompetent about me, if it is only two matters overturned by courts? And the minority judgment reflects what honestly happened. I am not a liar, I did my work in good faith.”
She said her work had resulted in getting some people their IDs and some finally getting their government pensions, “which directly changed their livelihood”.
“If a two-thirds majority of the parliamentarians say I must leave the office, then so be it, because those parliamentarians are representing the South Africans. They’re not representing their own interests.”
She said that, unlike parliamentarians, organisations such as Corruption Watch and the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution were representing the interests of their donors, funders and “singing for their lunch”.
“What are they doing for the people who are at the grassroots to change their livelihood? The fact of the matter is that this thing is still about the class issues and the race issues in this country.”
But, said Mkhwebane, Parliament also ought to be clear about the criteria needed to declare the Public Protector incompetent and the Speaker had to apply her mind fully because even the Constitutional Court found – in the case of former National Prosecuting Authority head Nomgcobo Jiba – that a person could not simply be removed on the basis of comments from judges.
“Judges are also fallible human beings, some of them are influenced by what is happening in the media when, instead, they should be focusing on the papers before them and the law.”
Although Mkhwebane was cautious that her views were not an attack on the Constitutional Court, she said she found solace in the minority judgment because it captured the essence of her argument.
“I never lied because the test of punitive costs is so high you need to be a fraudster. You need to be so dishonest and you need to hide information. It was very clear; I put out all the records. So, if you availed all the records, are you dishonest?”
She said her work was done in good faith and the meetings that the court said were suspicious formed part of the investigation as the president was the one who requested the initial probe.
She said her remedial action regarding the amendment of the Reserve Bank’s constitutional mandate – which she conceded had been flawed – “was purely to assist the country in addressing the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality”.