MPs freak out at possibility of Mkhwebane inquiry ‘collapsing’

MPs could not hold back from hysteria when the parliamentary programming committee heard on Thursday that the deadline for the inquiry into suspended public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has been shifted from the end of May to mid-June.

National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said parliament could not afford to have the inquiry extended into next month, especially after R4-million was found to cover Mkhwebane’s legal expenses until the end of May.

She warned that the proceedings could collapse.

“If we are to stop this whole process midway before we’ve completed it, there will be an audit finding against parliament. There will be,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

“Equally, there’ll be an audit finding against the Office of the Public Protector, but the people in the main [who] will bear the brunt of the criticism is parliament, as though it is our problem. It’s not our problem. It cannot be our problem.”

It is time to reconsider, she said, whether a costly hearing is necessary or whether an exit package is appropriate when a Chapter 9 head’s term was close to expiry.

“So the fact that now there’s something coming from the programme that we will finish mid-June, I’m not aware of that.

“And as a person who really has been battling to get this money for this process, I’m not prepared to get it anymore. I’ve tried my best and I’m not doing it again.

“So, it is either people continue and it ends at the end of May or the process collapses. And in that case, it means the [suspended] public protector walks away without a conclusion to the case.”

Missing from the MPs’ deliberation, however, was an acknowledgment that the Mkhwebane inquiry committee, chaired by ANC MP Richard Dyantyi, expanded its scope of work.

This included topics that the independent panel of experts that advised the committee ruled out for lack of prima-facie evidence.

Instead of investigating the few issues raised by the independent panel, the committee returned to the loaded complaint made by DA MP Natasha Mazzone against Mkhwebane.

This dramatically expanded the investigation’s scope.

Pieter Mulder, FF+ leader, blamed Mkhwebane for delay tactics. According to Mulder, he had warned at the start of the inquiry that there was a plot to keep the committee busy.

Even if enough money was found, Mulder said, the process would still drag on for months.

“We are paying now for a Rolls Royce. I would also like to drive in a Rolls Royce but we are paying exorbitant fees now for a Volkswagen at huge costs. It doesn’t make sense,” said Mulder.

“I can’t think that any court will say that we have faltered in our duty, but it’s going beyond reasonableness now. And my suggestion would be to advise the public protector to appeal and go to the Legal Aid Board. That is what normal people necessarily do.”

Mulder said parliament should set the deadline and allow the committee to finish its work.

“We can’t continue to drag this out like this, and it’s not an option to let the skies fall or to let the public protector just walk away. We can’t do that.”

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