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Busisiwe Mkhwebane's First Leaked Report Is On Its Way -- And May Finally Tell Us Where Her Loyalties Lie

The litmus test will be her handling of this along with a violation complaint against her previous boss at state intelligence.

13/01/2017 12:24 SAST | Updated 17/01/2017 15:48 SAST

ANALYSIS

Has Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane proved her mettle with her first leaked report? This is the question the MPs who initially appointed her will have to answer once an explosive report into Absa is finally released.

The Mail & Guardian on Friday reported on a leaked preliminary report by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane that recommends the bank pay back R2,25 billion its corporate predecessor received as part of an unlawful apartheid-era bailout.

The report is yet to be finalised: final submissions from affected parties are due on February 28. But once it is, it may be Mkhwebane's first report in her role as public protector -- a role that has thus far been dogged by controversy.

With the exception of the DA, all other parties including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) expressed great faith in her appointment.

A number of reports have surfaced about senior staff being sent packing by Mkhwebane, cases against the office of the public protector brought before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), and one staffer left stranded in Durban allegedly on Mkhwebane's orders.

It's been something of an unpleasant surprise given how united political parties were in their appointment of Mkhwebane. With the exception of the Democratic Alliance, all other parties including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) expressed great faith in her appointment.

When things started to go downhill during her tenure, the EFF adopted a cautious, "wait and see" approach.

EFF MP Floyd Shivambu was one such MP who, along with party leader Julius Malema, believed Mkhwebane would do a good job.

"She has not released any reports yet," Shivambu told The Huffington Post South Africa on Wednesday, before the leaked reported was released on Friday. "Let's wait and see what her attitude will be towards the law and her interpretation of the Public Protector Act."

"Absa was among the banks that pulled the plug on Gupta-family bank accounts and has been fairly outspoken on this matter."

That test will be fast approaching now, as it is likely this could be her first report.

Mkhwebane critics, who are concerned she is closely tied to President Jacob Zuma's interests, have read much in this choice of a first report.

After the M&G story broke, BusinessLive editor Ray Hartley wrote that one conspiracy theory could make links to the fact that "Absa was among the banks that pulled the plug on Gupta-family bank accounts and has been fairly outspoken on this matter."

But this report was primarily instigated by her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, and the understanding is that it is merely being finalised under Mkhwebane.

Shivambu, whose party has been at the forefront of Parliament's push against alleged state capture under the Gupta family, will have plenty to study when the report is finally released. But for him, the signs under Mkhwebane aren't that worrying -- yet.

Malema commended Mkhwebane for being cool-headed when placed under pressure in the interview.

"We'll see what is her attitude to to those who have got power. It's too early on to pass judgement and we do not know what are the reasons for dealing with her staff the way she has. We can't pass judgement yet."

When Mkhwebane was first interviewed for the post, Malema tweeted his support for her. Minutes from the meeting relate that while Malema noted Zuma's support for the candidate, he noted too the president was on his way out and Mkhwebane's tenure would last much longer. He also felt that the institution of the public protector's office would expose any wrongdoings, and commended Mkhwebane for being cool-headed when placed under pressure in the interview.

Shivambu also told The Huffington Post South Africa that Mkhwebane responded promptly over a complaint by opposition parties over State Security Minister David Mahlobo's possible violation of Parliament's code of ethics.

"She came back to us to say the matter has been referred to the governance unit in the public protector's office."

There are fears among her critics that her time at state intelligence may have served as a grooming period .

Mkhwebane's final say on that will be significant as the most controversial part of her history is a stint in state security agency, which falls under Mahlobo. Indeed, the DA's reservations about her appointment, and one that plagued other committee members, was that she could not satisfactorily explain taking a demotion from her previous high-flying job to serve as a low-ranking analyst in the department.

There are fears among her critics, such as the DA, that her time at state intelligence may have served as a grooming period for her ahead of the hotly contested public protector appointment -- given that there was so much unhappiness in government over her predecessor's reports against ministers and the president himself.

For the EFF, then, Mkhwebane's response to their ethics violation complaint and her finalised first report will be the ultimate litmus test as to whether Mkhwebane can, as Shivambu put it, "stand up to the establishment".

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