POLITICS
17/04/2018 14:58 SAST | Updated 17/04/2018 14:59 SAST

Public Protector To Probe Ace's Role In Estina At Last

After criticism of her investigation into the Estina dairy project in Free State, Busisiwe Mkhwebane is giving it another shot.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane at the release of her report on her investigation into the spending of Nelson Mandela's funeral funds, on December 04, 2017 in Pretoria.
The Times via Getty Images
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane at the release of her report on her investigation into the spending of Nelson Mandela's funeral funds, on December 04, 2017 in Pretoria.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane told MPs that her office would open a new case file to probe the role of politicians and other individuals involved in the Estina dairy farm controversy.

Mkhwebane was heavily criticised in February after the release of her report into Estina, which made findings against the Free State department of agriculture only.

The DA, the original complainant, labelled the report "a whitewash", because it had not probed the role of former Free State premier Ace Magashule and the Gupta family, all of whom were at the centre of the project.

The report was also criticised for not consulting more thoroughly with the intended beneficiaries of the project, who had been deprived of an intended R220-million in total.

On Tuesday, justice portfolio committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga asked Mkhwebane if she was worried that investigative units such as the Hawks were "running ahead" of her work by making arrests and raiding the Gupta's family estate in Saxonwold.

READ: Does Public Protector's Vrede Report Ignore Essentials?

Mkhwebane admitted that the previous Estina report did not include an investigation into politicians, saying that the report had been finalised in 2015, and the original complaint did not include "a query into politicians".

However, she said her office could open their own case file into politicians, without mentioning specific names.

"So we will have to relook into the roles especially of the politicians, and also the implications for the beneficiaries, and the impact on them."

She could not say how long the opening of a new file would take, but undertook to give the committee a reply by the end of April, when it is to be assigned to an investigator.

Mkhwebane appeared before the committee to present her office's budgetary needs for the current financial year and the medium-term framework over the next three years.

READ: DA Slams Mkhwebane's 'Disgraceful' Vrede Report

She said her department had a R29-million cumulative shortfall and needed Parliament to increase her budget to R285-million this year, with a total of R870-million over the next three years.

Responding to a separate question, she again denied any personal involvement with the State Security Agency (SSA), a common accusation by the DA since her appointment in 2016.

Her office only used the SSA as an institution to aid investigations, she declared.

She also denied, in response to a separate question, that she had a frosty relationship with deputy public protector Kevin Malunga, who was "on training" with the SSA for qualitative protocols.

Mkhwebane told journalists after the meeting that Magashule and then-provincial head of agriculture Mosebenzi Zwane will be looked at specifically.

She could not, however, probe the Gupta family, as they were private citizens and not elected public officials.

"I don't have jurisdiction over private individuals, but we will have to investigate public officials and whether they are implicated or not."

Mkhwebane said she decided to open the new case after being urged to do so by the portfolio committee.