Public protector`s letter to the President

24 August 2012

The Office of the ANC Chief Whip has noted with disappointment the letter of the Public Protector reportedly sent to the President regarding his report on the security upgrades at his Nkandla private residence. The report is currently before Parliament and an ad hoc committee has been established to consider it and make recommendations for adoption by the House.

The report of the President to Parliament takes into consideration all key reports relating to the security upgrades, including that of the Public Protector titled "Secure in Comfort". In responding to the report of the Public Protector, the Executive Members Ethics Act of 1998 directs that the President must submit a report to Parliament, not to the Public Protector`s office, for its consideration. The provisions of this Act are firmly in line with the Constitution in which the President and the executive are expected to account to Parliament.

The Public Protector herself, in her statement widely covered in the media on Tuesday, confirmed this common constitutional comprehension when she stated that `it was now up to Parliament to weigh President Jacob Zuma`s response to the findings on public spending on his private Nkandla home`. She said: "It is not for me to be satisfied, really it is not my place...The next part actually is for Parliament to evaluate, not me."

The letter of the Public Protector to the President, in which she takes issue with the President`s report and sets a dateline for him to respond, is inexplicable in the light of her stated position last week. It is difficult therefore to reconcile her statement that she would leave it to Parliament, not her office, to "evaluate" the President`s response with the contents of her letter to the President. This complete somersault between the Public Prorector`s position on the 20 August and her position articulated in her letter at the close of business on 21 August suggests a desperate attempt to dictate terms to Parliament rather than respect Parliamentary processes and its constitutional authority.

We are concerned that the Public Protector, rather than respect the current parliamentary process, seems to react to political events or jumping onto political bandwagons. We cannot help noting the interesting coincidence between this dramatic u-turn regarding her earlier commitment to respect the process of Parliament and Thursday`s events in Parliament.

The irony of the Public Protector`s letter to the President is that, while it makes serious accusations regarding the President`s alleged undermining of democratic institutions, she herself elects a path that undermines the authority of the legislative sphere of government, Parliament, and its constitutional processes. It sets a dangerous precedent in which her office is placed above that of Parliament. Given that the report of the President, together with other reports relating to the security upgrades including "Secure in Comfort", are currently before a process of Parliament, her letter seems to be opening a parallel process whose legality is questionable. We would have expected of the Public Protector to observe the process that is currently underway in Parliament and make herself available to it in order to table any formal reservation she might have regarding the President`s response.

The Public Protector ought to respect the process that is currently underway in Parliament and refrain from engaging in extra-parliamentary processes. Our view is that, rather than directing her views to the President, she must await the ad hoc committee process where she would have an opportunity to table them.


Moloto Mothapo 082 370 6930