Mon, 18 Nov 2019

As she marked three years in office this week, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has vowed to continue doing her work without fear, favour or prejudice.

Mkhwebane has faced criticism since she occupied the office - mostly for a number of court cases she lost.

And while there had been calls for her to be removed from office, she has also enjoyed support from pastors, some politicians and members of the public who gathered in KwaMhlanga, Mpumalanga, in August to pray for her.

To date, the Office of the Public Protector had dealt with more than 50 000 complaints, of which 70% were finalised, News24 reported.

The office issued more than 150 investigation reports covering various themes, including executive ethics, maladministration, procurement irregularities, irregularities in the appointment of staff and the plight of whistleblowers, to name a few.

Here is a look at her time in office thus far:

October 2016: Mkhwebane is appointed new Public Protector. She was selected from more than 60 candidates nominated by South Africans. Her candidacy was endorsed with an overwhelming 263 votes during a debate in the National Assembly on September 7, 2016. Seventy-nine MPs voted against it and one abstained. Only the DA opposed her nomination and accused her of being a spy and being on the State Security Agency's payroll.

January 2017: The ANC wants the Public Protector report linking Absa to billions of rand in bailout funds from the apartheid government made public. The party criticised former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela for not releasing the report during her tenure, saying this strengthened the perception that she prioritised cases against the governing party over others. The leaked provisional report's remedial action says that Absa should pay back R2.25bn to the fiscus. The report was based on an investigation by UK company CIEX in 1997, which probed claims that the Bankorp group of banks, bought by Absa in 1992, had been offered R1.5bn under the guise of a bailout before the dawn of democracy.

June 2017: Mkhwebane releases the report and finds the South African Reserve Bank's R1.125bn bailout of Bankorp between 1985 and 1995 was unlawful and that Absa should pay back the money.

June 2017: Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago files an urgent application in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to set aside the remedial action the Public Protector proposed on the Bankorp bailout.

August 2017: The reserve bank wins its application to have Mkhwebane's remedial action to change its constitutional mandate set aside.

October 2017: Mkhwebane survives the first DA attempt to have her fitness to hold office reviewed.

November 2017: The reserve bank applies for a declaratory order from the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that Mkhwebane abused the Office of the Public Protector, and wants her to pay legal costs independently.

November 2017: Absa CEO Maria Ramos says the bank will seek a punitive costs order. Mkhwebane continues to defend the Bankorp/CIEX report.

February 2018: The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria sets aside Mkhwebane's Bankorp-CIEX report, in which Absa was ordered to pay R1.125bn.

February 2018: Mkhwebane quietly releases a report on the Vrede dairy project in the Free State, highlighting procurement irregularities, "gross negligence" and maladministration related to the controversial project.

March 2018: The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria dismisses Mkhwebane's application for leave to appeal a previous judgment that she should personally pay 15% of the costs incurred by the reserve bank in the long-running Bankorp-CIEX case.

November 2018: The Constitutional Court hears an application from Mkhwebane against a ruling which requires her to pay, in her personal capacity, a portion of the reserve bank's legal costs in the Bankorp case.

January 2019: Mkhwebane confirms that she will investigate whether President Cyril Ramaphosa lied about a campaign donation received from controversial facilities company Bosasa, now known as African Global Operations.

February 2019: Mkhwebane survives a second DA proposal that Parliament start procedures for her removal.

March 2019: Mkhwebane opens criminal charges against then-minister of state security Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba over her alleged interference in the functioning of the Office of the Public Protector. The case is still pending.

May 2019: The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria rules that Mkhwebane failed in her duties to investigate and report on the Vrede dairy project in the Free State.

May 2019: Mkhwebane finds Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan guilty of "improper conduct" over his approval of then-deputy SA Revenue Services (SARS) commissioner Ivan Pillay's early retirement and payout. The EFF throws its weight behind Mkhwebane, saying anybody who disagrees with her report on a pension-related decision Gordhan made when he was finance minister should take it to court on review.

June 2019: Mkhwebane says she has laid a formal complaint with the police against people who insulted her in line with the laws governing her office.

June 2019: Parliament's justice and correctional services portfolio committee is asked to look at a third DA request to have Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office reviewed.

July 2019: Mkhwebane finds that the "rogue unit", an investigative unit within SARS, was established and operated illegally, and that Gordhan, as former minister of finance, should be disciplined by President Cyril Ramaphosa for his conduct. But Gordhan successfully interdicted the implementation of Mkhwebane's remedial action, pending the outcome of a review application.

July 2019: Mkhwebane found that Ramaphosa deliberately misled Parliament when responding to a question about a R500 000 donation to his 2017 ANC presidential campaign. She then recommended that the campaign be investigated for money laundering. Ramaphosa has taken that report on review.

August 2019: More woes for Mkhwebane came in the form of a ruling of the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria which found that her office as well as she was responsible for some of the legal costs in her personal capacity in the Vrede dairy farm case.

The court ordered that the office must pay 85% of the costs of the DA on an attorney and client scale. It must also pay 85% of the costs of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac). Mkhwebane must pay 7.5% of the costs of the DA and 7.5% of the costs of Casac in her personal capacity. She said she would appeal the court's decision.

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