South African graft watchdog ‘deceitful’, ‘not honest’: top court
Busisiwe Mkhwebane is South Africa’s Public Protector — a position to investigate public corruption and misconduct — but she is viewed by some as an ally of graft-tainted ex-president Jacob Zuma.
Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma as president of the ruling ANC and of the country in a divisive contest, said Sunday he would take Mkhwebane to court over a separate report that found he had misled parliament about a donation to his campaign fund.
On Monday, the Constitutional Court dismissed Mkhwebane’s bid to scrap a 2018 High Court ruling ordering her to pay $65,000 in legal fees for a report the judges had found to be biased.
The highest court said Mkhwebane had been “deceitful” and acted in “bad faith” in an investigation involving local bank Absa, whose predecessor Bankorp had received an illegal lifeline from the central bank during the apartheid years.
She had ordered the country’s anti-graft Special Investigation Unit to recoup 1.125 billion rands (about $80 million today) from the new, democratic-era central bank.
“The Public Protector’s entire model of the investigation was flawed,” the Constitutional Court said in its judgement.
“She was not honest about her engagement during the investigation,” it found and concluded: “this type of conduct falls far short of the high standards required of her office.”
The ruling came the day after Ramaphosa slammed as “fundamentally and irretrievably flawed” Mkhwebane’s findings regarding a donation to his 2017 campaign for the ANC presidency.
Ramaphosa said he would challenge the report in court as it contained findings which were “irrational” and “wrong in law”.
Respected cabinet minister Pravin Gordhan, a Ramaphosa ally in charge of public enterprises, is also challenging a Public Protector report that found he had lied to lawmakers over a meeting with a controversial business family at the heart of many corruption allegations.
After Monday’s judgement, Mkhwebane told journalists she “never told falsehoods under oath”.
Kwandiwe Kondlo, a politics professor at the University of Johannesburg, said Ramaphosa’s battle with Mkhwebane “had become a serious distraction for the president”.
“If it drags on, the first five years of his administration is going to be spent in litigation,” he said.
The opposition Democratic Alliance said it would initiate steps to have the ombudswoman, appointed in 2016, removed from her seven-year post.
“Today’s court judgement proves that the Public Protector’s failings go much deeper than simple technical errors,” the DA said in a statement.
“She is not fit to hold the office she occupies and is in actual fact grossly incompetent”.