The ongoing Section 194 Enquiry into Public Protector Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office has hit another hurdle as Adv. Mkhwebane missed yet another important deadline. This time, she failed to respond to written questions posed by Members and evidence leaders, further delaying the proceedings. The Committee Chairperson, Mr. Qubudile Dyantyi, expressed grave concern over Adv. Mkhwebane’s repeated disregard for the committee’s deadlines, which were agreed upon by all participating Members.
The committee had previously encountered numerous challenges and delays related to Adv. Mkhwebane’s legal assistance. Despite the availability of additional funds totaling R4 million and permission to retain all three of her counsel at increased fees, Adv. Mkhwebane failed to meet her obligations within the stipulated timeframes.
Mr. Dyantyi stated that Adv. Mkhwebane was initially required to notify the committee by June 19, 2023, whether she would be responding to questions in writing or orally. She was then granted an extension until June 22 to submit any additional affidavits or supporting documentation. However, Adv. Mkhwebane failed to meet both deadlines and did not provide any additional information for the committee’s consideration.
On June 25, two sets of questions were sent to Chaane Attorneys, Adv. Mkhwebane’s attorneys of record, one by Members of the committee and the other by evidence leaders. The deadline for responding to these questions was July 6, 2023. Regrettably, Adv. Mkhwebane chose to ignore this crucial process, thereby displaying disrespect towards the agreed-upon committee procedures.
The next deadline, which expires today, requires Adv. Mkhwebane to submit written notice to the committee secretariat indicating whether she will make a closing statement and the format in which it will be delivered. Mr. Dyantyi emphasized that despite missing several deadlines, this is yet another opportunity for Adv. Mkhwebane to present her version of events in terms of the motion before the committee. He urged her to utilize this platform to regain public confidence. Just as the committee has a constitutional responsibility to complete its mandate, Adv. Mkhwebane must be accountable to Parliament through the committee.
According to Mr. Dyantyi, Adv. Mkhwebane and her attorneys have asserted that they are not bound by what they perceive as illegal deadlines set by the committee. They claim that counsel has not been briefed to address the merits of the matter due to Chaane Attorneys still familiarizing themselves with the record. However, this argument raises concerns as Chaane Attorneys has already spent over R500,000 of the allocated R4 million for this purpose.
In response to Chaane Attorneys’ letter, Mr. Dyantyi highlighted that negotiations for the re-appointment of Adv. Mpofu and two junior counsel took place from May 23 to June 4. He noted that this time could have been used productively to familiarize themselves with the record. Unfortunately, no progress was made during that period as Adv. Mkhwebane fell ill on June 5, resulting in a delay. The committee was informed that no one at Chaane Attorneys was able to act on the matter until her sudden recovery and the subsequent reinstatement of the brief on June 14. Thus, Chaane Attorneys have already been involved in this matter for a total of 33 days, yet they claim they require an additional month to familiarize themselves fully with the record.
Expressing concern, Mr. Dyantyi questioned the purpose of such an extended perusal period and the undisclosed nature of this decision, especially considering the significant amount of funds already spent. He suggested that it appears Adv. Mkhwebane may only instruct her chosen legal representative once the allocated budget has been exhausted, which would create an untenable situation that hampers the committee and the National Assembly’s constitutional obligations.
Addressing Adv. Mkhwebane’s request to bring a recusal application against him, Mr. Dyantyi stated that she has been informed multiple times to submit the application in writing. He emphasized his willingness to address it once filed. However, despite indicating her intention to bring such an application, Adv. Mkhwebane has yet to submit it for his consideration, despite the allegations being public knowledge for over five weeks.
In conclusion, Mr. Dyantyi affirmed that the committee will continue to adhere to the set timelines. Established on March 16, 2021, the committee aims to conduct a constitutional enquiry into Adv. Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office. The committee is expected to conclude its work on July 28, 2023. Further information regarding the timelines and committee documents can be obtained upon request.