ANC MPs who have already publicly voiced support for the work of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane used the party’s majority in parliamentary committees to ensure that they will be the ones to determine her fitness to continue in her office.
The ANC rejected a proposal for the establishment of an ad hoc committee to consider a Democratic Alliance request to institute the removal proceedings against Mkhwebane.
Instead, they want the justice portfolio committee which oversees the Office of the Public Protector to be the forum that establishes whether she is fit to continue in the office.
In a dramatic and heated parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, five out of six ANC MPs who serve in the National Assembly’s justice and correctional services committee first objected to the matter being discussed by the committee, saying it was short notice and that they needed time to look into it and apply their minds on the DA’s request which was circulated in the meeting as the topic was introduced.
The matter which National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete referred to the committee on September 28 was not on the committee’s agenda for Tuesday but committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga introduced the topic proposing that MPs decide on whether their committee or an ad hoc committee should deal with the matter.
Motshekga cautioned that the justice committee’s programme was packed with legislation that needed to be finalised before the end of the year and that “it would not be possible for us to do justice to the matter that has been referred to us”.
Motshekga suggested that the committee ask Mbete to set up an ad hoc committee to deal with the matter on the grounds that the programme was full and that he didn’t think the committee had the capacity to deal with complex matters that would arise in dealing with the matter.
The opposition parties seemed to agree with Motshekga.
The DA’s Werner Horn said legally there seemed to be a case to be made that if the Public Protector was selected by an ad hoc committee, it must follow that in dealing with an allegation of misconduct or incapacity, an ad hoc committee should investigate.
“It’s an argument that Parliament must get proper advice on before continuing with the process,” said Horn.
The African Christian Democratic Party’s Steve Swart supported the idea of an ad hoc committee to be the vehicle to investigate Mkhwebane’s fitness for office.
The ANC MPs wouldn’t hear any of it and as has become a custom, exchanged harsh words with Motshekga, who has been enjoying the support of the opposition lately.
At first they objected to the discussion taking place citing short notice; but later after the heated exchange with Motshekga and a 15-minute caucus meeting, they proposed that the justice committee be the one to deal with the complaint.
“We cannot be kow-towed by the DA. I don’t even think this matter is relevant for any consideration by the committee. If we were to look at the reasons I see here, they are just neither here nor there,” said ANC MP Bongani Bongo.
Bongo said the DA had opposed Mkhwebane’s appointment and their call for her removal was a ploy to pursue what they started.
“I don’t think we need to waste Parliament’s time by setting up an ad hoc committee. We must say to the Speaker there is no basis for the issues raised here. All we need to do is capacitate the Office of the Public Protector so that it can have capacity to execute its mandate properly,” he said.
The ANC MPs changed their tune following a short caucus meeting and decided that the justice committee should deal with the matter even if it means the committee sits on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
When others objected, they put the matter to a vote and won.
When Mkhwebane appeared before the committee last Thursday, ANC MPs praised her work, especially her controversial remedial action in which she instructed Parliament to amend the Constitution and change the mandate of the SA Reserve Bank.