Protector, MPs clash on mandate again

The row between Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and MPs over the extent of her investigative powers intensified today against the backdrop of her adverse findings against IEC chairperson Pansy Tlakula.

Madonsela faced a barrage of questions on her mandate, partly prompted by her call for a “quiet discussion” on this issue that has bedevilled her relationship with Parliament’s justice portfolio committee since last year.

She was briefing the committee on her office’s annual report, and seeking support for a request for an additional R35 million in funding from the Treasury.

ANC MP Mathole Motshekga asked Madonsela to explain her understanding of the term “state affairs”, and said it was regrettable that nearly 20 years of its establishment there was still confusion about the exact role of the Office of the Public Protector.

“If we are not clear about that, then we are going to have a problem on money,” he said.

Madonsela responded that her mandate extended to investigating the state “in its entirety” and that she drew her definition from the Public Finance Management Act.

The question is integral to Tlakula’s rejection of Madonsela’s findings that her role in renting new headquarters for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was improper and amounted to maladministration.

In a 55-page reply to Madonsela’s report leaked to the media, Tlakula claimed that the Public Protector Act gave Madonsela the power to investigate maladministration on the part of the government, but that although the IEC was an organ of state it “does not form part of government”.

Parliament has asked for legal advice on how to handle the Protector’s report on the matter, with some MPs noting that it was unprecedented partly because it involved two Chapter 9 institutions.

Madonsela told the committee there was nothing strange about Chapter 9 institutions overseeing each other.

“It is the first time that I’m hearing that they are excluded from my mandate,” she said.

“The Auditor-General audits all of us and he is a Chapter 9 institution.”

Turning to Motshekga’s wider question, she said it was strange that there had not been confusion about her mandate until last year, although she had tackled the same kind of cases as her predecessors who were not challenged about their mandate.

“Advocate [Selby] Baqwa was investigating all state affairs. He was investigating at three levels of government and it was never an issue,” she said, referring to the first person to hold her post after the office was established in 1995.

“There is nothing new that we have done, not a single thing.”

Chapter 9 institutions refer to institutions established in terms of Chapter 9 of the Constitution to support democracy.

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