Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said at a press conference last week following her first 100 days in office that she would be charging her predecessor for an outstanding matter regarding her state car. Mkhwebane said Madonsela would be charged nearly R500,000 for allegedly using her state-provided BMW for longer than she should have and for her son crashing the car years ago after driving it without permission. The money was taken from her once-off gratuity payment. Madonsela maintained she was not liable as she was cleared of wrongdoing by the Auditor General. The Huffington Post South Africa spoke to Madonsela and the office of the Auditor General to get the details.
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Was Mkhwebane correct in accusing Madonsela of using her state car after vacating the Office of the Public Protector?
As far as we can tell, no. Mkhwebane didn't seem to be aware that the South African Police Services has given Madonsela permission to use VIP protection services for a cooling off period after she left office, which entailed using her state vehicle. "I was given a letter from VIP Protection at SAPS to do so and advised by the head at a meeting on 14 October 2016," Madonsela said. The matter of the car crash however, is a bit more complicated.
In February 2012 Madonsela's son, Wanto Madonsela, took his mother's official vehicle, a BMW X6, without her permission while she was sleeping. He crashed the car, which he said happened when he swerved to avoid a dog in the road and crashed into a wall. Madonsela was applauded at the time for immediately declaring the incident, opening a docket and offering to submit to all processes. "I will submit myself to internal processes regarding the use of state vehicles in line with the terms and conditions of my employment," Madonsela said in a statement, adding that the law should take its course. According to the judge's handbook, which applies to the Public Protector, the only time another person could have driven Madonsela's state car is when Madonsela herself was a passenger.
How much was the car worth?
Madonsela told HuffPost SA the car was two years old at the time, meaning it was probably the 2010 model. Sowetan at the time put the X6 price range between R500,000 to R1-million. It would have depreciated to some degree by 2012.
What did Madonsela do about the money?
Madonsela told HuffPost SA that she was not held personally responsible for the cost of the accident as her son was liable, but that she offered to pay on his behalf, as her son was unemployed at the time. "The first process was with [then CEO] Themba Mthethwa. Insurance was going to pay and there was excess. It was about R30,000. I paid immediately in 2012."
Did insurance pay out?
They did not, and it is unclear why. Madonsela said: "I don't know what happened at the level of administration."
What happened next?
She told HuffPost SA: "The matter resurfaced in 2014, and the story was insurance never paid and the office must pay. The new CEO raised the matter with me." It appears government vehicle service G-Fleet requested the money but Madonsela took issue with the amount put forward of about R420,000. "We said the car at that stage was more than two years old and you can't fix that car for more than R420k," she told HuffPost SA. "Ideally it would be written off. There was no itemisation, and when we requested it they never gave us that detail." She said she instructed her chief of staff at the time to "work out how much was really needed to pay for this car". She maintains that she was not responsible for the payment but "always felt I needed to help my son pay for the car", but wanted to pay a fair amount, taking issue with the amount quoted.
Did she settle on an amount?
Madonsela said at the same time, and to HuffPost SA now, that the Auditor General's audit team "interviewed me on this matter. At the end of the audit process, the audit head accepted there wasn't anything I did wrong, or anything I didn't do that I should have done".
So what's the problem?
The spokesperson for the Office of the Auditor General has come out and said they never investigated the matter. In a statement to the HuffPost SA on Monday they said: "The Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) audits the financial statements of the Public Protector of South Africa (PPSA) as part of its annual regularity audits. The AGSA did not investigate the subject of your inquiry as this matter had no impact on the PPSA's financial statements. The PPSA would therefore be in the best position to provide a detailed response on this matter."
What has Madonsela said?
Madonsela maintains the matter was the subject of an audit query "during the time of [then AG Terrence] Nombembe". The response to HuffPost SA came from the office of the current AG Kimi Makwetu. HuffPost SA is trying to get hold of Nombembe and will update this article once we have a response. Madonsela added: "Why would I invent that narrative which had been the same even when the matter came up in Parliament as early as 2012?"
What did Madonsela do about the matter in the end?
She hired someone to look into the matter along with other financial matters, including her pension pay-out amount which was the same as her predecessor Lawrence Mushwana's, despite the capital amounts being different. In addition she hoped to discuss the matter with her successor but was denied a proper handover meeting, and said her interaction with her successor has been fraught with tension and a refusal to meet. Madonsela says she is committed to paying a fair amount.
The matter was not yet resolved when the amount was deducted from her pension, in what Madonsela has described as a unilateral move, without any consultation. She believes she is being targeted by President Jacob Zuma via Mkhwebane for her investigations that involved the president during her tenure. The Presidency has furiously denied the claim.
Madonsela has won several awards and is widely respected for her integrity. This incident, however, needs further clarity.