From investigating alleged maladministration at local government level, all the way to corruption in the executive branch of South Africa’s government, Thuli Madonsela and her office of the Public Protector have become South African heroes.
Time included Madonsela in its list of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2014; an affirmation to those that have come to think of the Public Protector as a beacon of hope for ordinary South Africans.
“As South Africa’s public protector, with her ability to speak truth to power and to address corruption in high places, Madonsela has been outstanding,” Time wrote.
But just how influential is the Public Protector really?
Madonsela is very humble about her position, telling Chester Missing (the puppet persona of Conrad Koch) during an interview for Loyiso Gola’s Late Nite News programme that they just do their job.
“We try to find out who’s supposed to have done something, and if they did something wrong we tell them,” Madonsela said. “But it’s really in a loving way to correct them.”
To try and answer the question of how influential our Public Protector is, we took a look at some of her more recent high-profile reports, and their outcomes.
Jacob Zuma not declaring his interests
|What||Report No. 1 of 2010/11: Report of an investigation into an alleged breach of Section 5 of the Executive Ethics Code by President JG Zuma|
|When||21 April 2010|
|Outcome||No changes effected|
After it was called upon by the leader of the official opposition to do so, the Public Protector investigated reports in the media that President Jacob Zuma had failed to disclose his financial interests within the time allowed by the Executive Ethics Code.
The Public Protector found that Zuma submitted his declaration of financial interests, assets, and liabilities to the Secretary of the Cabinet on 10 March 2010, which constituted partial compliance with section 5 of the Code.
It also noted that Zuma indicated that he regretted the delay, and raised concerns regarding anomalies in the laws governing his declaration of financial interests.
The Public Protector also noted that there was further weirdness in the law that required it to present its report on the President’s ethical conduct to the President himself.
While the Public Protector did make a number of recommendations to Parliament to amend the Executive Members’ Ethics Act, this has not happened to-date.
Julius Malema / On-Point tender scandal
|What||On the Point of Tenders: Report No. 10 of 2012/13|
|When||10 October 2012|
|Outcome||On-point blacklisted from government tenders until 2018|
In September 2012 the Public Protector found that a tender awarded to On Point Engineers (Pty.) Ltd by the Limpopo Transport and Roads Agency was unlawful, improper, and constituted maladministration.
Ntau Letebele, who was the head of the Limpopo department of roads and transport at the time the tender was issued and awarded, tendered his immediate resignation on 14 January 2013, which was accepted.
According to an SABC report, Madonsela expressed concern that Letebele was allowed to resign before the disciplinary process involving the tender had concluded.
The findings of the investigation also confirmed the link originally reported between Julius Malema, then President of the ANC Youth League, to the tender.
Julius Malema was charged with money-laundering, racketeering, fraud, and corruption, and was originally going to stand trial during November 2013. His trial has been postponed until 30 September 2014.
The Anti-Corruption Task Team told Parliament during October 2013 that it had 14 criminal cases involving the Limpopo department of roads and transport on its books, involving 25 accused.
Of the 14 cases, 10 were in court while the remaining 4 were still “in-progress”.
It was also reported that On Point was blacklisted from doing business with government until 2018.
Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s excessive hotel bill
|What||Costly Movies: Report No. 3 of 2012/13|
|When||26 November 2012|
|Outcome||Peterson moved portfolios to Minister of Energy, which is arguably a more important portfolio due to South Africa’s current energy crisis.|
Former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson was found to have recklessly spent public funds by putting her and her family up in expensive accommodation while waiting for a Ministerial residence.
Return tickets for her two children and an au pair to Sweden to the tune of R151,858, which also came out of the public purse, was also found to be unlawful.
“Minister Joemat-Pettersson did stay at the 28A On Oxford Guest House from 13 June 2010 to 11 July 2010 at a total cost to the Department of R420 000. This was during the period when South Africa hosted the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup and accommodation costs were inflated,” the Public Protector wrote.
“She also stayed at Peermont D’Oreale Grande Hotel at a cost to the Department of R8085 per night. Both amounts involved were unconscionably excessive.”
The Public Protector raked not only Joemat-Pettersson over the coals; but also her chief of staff for giving poor advice; and the Minister of Public Works for not providing a house in good time.
Joemat-Pettersson was also told to repay the R151,858 for the flights to Sweden.
However, the Minister has taken the matter to court and has since been made the Minister of Energy.
Dina Pule’s ICT Indaba
|What||Unsolicited Donation: Report No. 22 of 2013/14|
|When||5 December 2013|
|Outcome||Dina Pule “shuffled” out, but was still offered position in Parliament afterwards|
Following exposé after exposé in the Sunday Times, the Public Protector undertook to investigate claims that former Minister of Communications Dina Pule had irregularly awarded a contract for organising an ICT Indaba to be held in Cape Town from 4 to 7 June 2014.
The Public Protector found that Pule had caused her department to improperly benefit her boyfriend at the time, Mr Phosane Mngqibisa, on a variety of counts, including giving his company the contract for the Indaba.
It also found that Pule “wilfully misled Parliament” and that her conduct was “grossly at odds with the provisions of section 96(2) of the Constitution as well as the Executive Ethics Code”.
By the time the Public Protector had published her report, President Zuma had already “shuffled” Pule out of Cabinet. She was replaced by Yunus Carrim on 9 July 2013.
However, following the report, Pule’s next appearance in Parliament saw her being (in)famously greeted with hugs and compassion for the ordeal she was going through.
Despite the Protector’s report, the ANC offered Pule a nomination to return as a Minister of Parliament, which she declined.
Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s fake CV
|What||When Governance and Ethics Fail: Report No. 23 of 2013/14|
|When||17 February 2014|
|Outcome||Hlaudi Motsoening permanently appointed as SABC COO|
Called upon to investigate allegations that Hlaudi Motsoeneng had lied about passing high school to receive his matriculation certificate, the Public Protector once again found that the allegations were substantiated.
Motsoeneng was appointed to many posts at the SABC on the back of this lie, the Public Protector said, including his position as acting chief operations officer (COO).
The Public Protector recommended that “appropriate disciplinary action” be taken against Motsoeneng and others.
It also instructed that the Minister of Communications at the time, Yunus Carrim, take urgent steps to fill the vacant position of COO that Motsoeneng occupied in an acting capacity.
Instead of any of this happening, Motsoeneng was appointed to the post of COO of the SABC permanently.
Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead
|What||Secure in Comfort: Report No. 25 of 2013/14|
|When||19 March 2014|
|Outcome||Waiting for President’s response, followed by an ad-hoc committee to consider the President’s response.|
The extravagant “security upgrades” to President Jacob Zuma’s homestead in Nkandla has also been scrutinised by the Public Protector, which estimated the total cost of the upgrades to be R246,631,303.
According to the public protector’s report, a critical service delivery programme was shelved and money diverted to upgrade Zuma’s homestead.
“Funds were reallocated from the inner city regeneration project and the dolomite risk management programme of the department of public works,” Mandonsela said in her voluminous report.
“Due to a lack of proper demand management and planning, service delivery programmes of the department of public works were negatively affected.”
The Public Protector said that in terms of the Constitution, the President should:
- Repay a reasonable percentage of the costs that do not relate to security
- Reprimand the Ministers involved for “the appalling manner in which the Nkandla Project was handled and state funds were abused”
- Report to the National Assembly on his comments and actions on the Protector’s report within 14 days.
None of this has happened.
In fact, an ad-hoc committee established to consider Zuma’s answers was dissolved prior to the elections in May to pass the problem on to South Africa’s fifth Parliament.
A new ad-hoc committee is set to be re-established as soon as Zuma has submitted his response to parliament.
And after that, maybe we’ll get a task team to investigate the findings of the ad-hoc committee?
Public Protector overall track-record
While the above cases represent a handful of high-profile cases tackled by the Public Protector over the past few years, they are not necessarily representative of the types of outcomes achieved in every case.
In her office’s 2012/13 annual report, Madonsela said they handled 37,770 cases, which was an increase from the previous year’s 27,376.
Of these, 22,400 were finalised, with just under half of the cases upheld, while 13,995 were carried over to the current financial year.
2,085 of the cases were referred to what Madonsela described as “other competent bodies.”
The Public Protector achieved 75% of its performance targets during 2012/13, Madonsela said.
It would, therefore, seem that the Public Protector’s overall track-record doesn’t look as bad as the high-profile cases we selected might suggest.
However, when it comes to the executive branch of South Africa’s government the Public Protector’s influence does not seem to be as strong as some would like to believe it is.