One of the themes that have emerged from the parliamentary inquiry into Busiswe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office is the excessive use of the so-called audi letters. Some former employees have accused her of weaponising these letters to enforce her unreasonable deadlines on staff to complete investigation reports. In the second of a three-part series, Joseph Mosia looks back at some of the evidence given on this issue.
Audi al partem is sometimes tricky to pronounce as a Latin term. Yet, it is one of the basic principles of fairness when one is accused of wrongdoing. It means all sides to a conflict must be given a chance to state their case or be heard. Yet, to the staff of the Office of the Public Protector, it has a different ring altogether.
Audi letters are a source of great trepidation.
Former Public Protector Chief Operations Officer, Basani Baloyi says Mkhwebane weaponised them to the extent that they lost their normal meaning. She says in her case she even received audi letters for failing to issue audi letters to those who reported to her.
She was being cross-examined by Advocate Dali Mpofu acting as the Public Protector.
“You are saying there was an audi environment for example. In other words, there was an environment of obeying the rule of natural justice. Correct?” asked Mpofu.
“It was not that. It was a tool that was used as a threat to me. I mean having worked in many institutions with several people, I have never seen that. It was the first time that environment where you could even have a file of audi letters,” says Baloyi.
Baloyi testified that she was even threatened with an audi letter when she could not finalise reports because she was taking care of her daughter, who was in hospital. This was also the case with another former senior manager, Pona Mogaladi.
Messages of condolences from the Public Protector following the death of her niece were immediately followed by threats of yet another audi letter. This as she was preparing to go to Polokwane for the funeral.
“I was frustrated. I did everything to try and catch up. I think the more I tried the more it became even more difficult. I felt defeated and I think while it might be seen as audi letters, I really felt that the decisions were not really. The decisions or directives or instructions or whatever they may be seen as decisions were already made. They were not audi letters. Because if say you, I have already been issued with an audi you’ve already decided that I’m guilty, you have already decided you are imposing a sanction,” says Mogaladi.
Advocate Mpofu told the hearing though that he fails to understand why audi letters are being made a big issue.
“The PP on the one hand must be impeached because she denied certain people audi, in the form of section 7 (9) letters. In the case of Mr Van Loggerenberg, Mr Pillay, all sorts of Mr Ramaphosa. So, in the case of those cases, it is argued here or suggested that his denial of audi is the ground for impeachment. But in the same breath, those people argue the granting of audi to employees is also grounds for impeachment. I don’t know what is expected of the Public Protector,” says Mpofu.