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More backlash for Public Protector – this time for report on Parly secretary

2019-06-04 23:02

As calls for the recall of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane intensify, her recent report on the suspended secretary of Parliament seemingly did not win her any new friends from neither the complainant, nor respondent in this case.

Suspended secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana indicated in a statement that he would take the adverse findings against him in the report on review.

One of the complainants, former deputy head of Protection Services at Parliament Motlatsi Mokgatla also slammed the report for what he labelled was an “imaginary investigation”.

Mokgatla laid his complaint to the Public Protector in 2016, as did Nehawu.

The allegations Nehawu levelled against Mgidlana ranged from the secretary’s alleged use of public funds to pay for his spouse’s travel costs to official functions and the alleged ex-gratia payment totalling R71 000 he made to himself.

Mokgatla in turn accused Mgidlana of the “misuse and abuse of state vehicles”, unlawfully suspending him (Mokgatla) and alleged that Mgidlana irregularly appointed new SAPS members to the Parliamentary Protection Services.

In her report released recently Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane dismissed some allegations as “unsubstantiated”.

This included Nehawu’s claims that the secretary made an ex-gratia payment to himself, in addition to not having top secret security clearance. Mkhwebane also found Mokgatla’s claims that the secretary made use of blue lights and sirens and used PPS (Parliament’s Protection Services) to transport family members to be unsubstantiated on the basis that the protection officers distanced themselves from such allegations.

However, she found that Mgidlana using public funds to pay for travel costs of his spouse to official functions was not regarded “as necessary in the interest of Parliament as provided in the institution’s travel policy”.

She also found he did misuse and abuse official vehicles and so contravened the reviewed policy on travel, accommodation and subsistence and travel allowance of 2009.

Mkhwebane withheld a finding on allegations that the secretary irregularly appointed SAPS members (so called “white shirts”) to Parliament’s Protection Services because the case was still before the Labour Court.

However, Mokgatla told Parlybeat that the Public Protector never interviewed him as the complainant and there was “ample evidence” to substantiate his claims.

Mgidlana lashed out at the report he called “tainted by reviewable irregularities” and an “affront to administrative justice”.

“The public expects the highest standards of the Public Protector’s office which includes that an accused person is subjected to a process that is fair, independent and judicious. The process followed by the Public Protector is [devoid] of any of these noble attributes,” Mgidlana said.

As part of her remedial action, Mkhwebane ordered Parliament to review its travel policy including the travelling of the Secretary of Parliament, nationally and internationally and when accompanied by a spouse or companion at the expense of Parliament.

“The policy must contain the proper definition of terms, with limitations of the use of the words ‘occasion’ and ‘official business’ and regulate authorisation and approval on all international travel including the Secretary to Parliament.”

Mkhwebane directed that a moratorium be placed on ex-gratia payments and ordered Parliament to provide her with an action plan with timelines on these recommendations.

Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo told ParlyBeat the presiding officers would study the report and determine the appropriate course of action.

According to him, the suspended secretary’s disciplinary process was still ongoing.

“It has taken longer than anticipated, but that is not unusual for processes of this nature where due processes must be thoroughly observed.”

Parliament’s former presiding officers put Mgidlana on precautionary leave in 2017 pending a disciplinary hearing following Parliament’s audit committee’s investigation of allegations of maladministration and abuse of power against him.

Mgidlana asked to be put on special leave pending the audit committee investigation.

The presiding officers then put him on precautionary suspension later that year after the audit committee submitted its report with findings. He has consistently denied the allegations.

Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen also raised concern over the amount of time the disciplinary process is taking.

“It must be concluded, and findings made because we do not think that Mgidlana should be able to slink away into another cushy government job without being held accountable,” he said.

“It is unacceptable that Parliament as the very institution charged with accountability can take almost two years to hold a senior office bearer accountable.”

• This article originally appeared on ParlyBeat, a biweekly digital newsletter aimed at linking policy and oversight processes in Parliament to the lived realities of ordinary people. Follow ParlyBeat on Twitter.

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July 21 2019