The section 194 inquiry probing the fitness of suspended Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane to hold office is racing against time to find a solution to the challenge of her legal fees.
This after the office of the Public Protector told the committee that it only had enough money to fund Mkhwebane’s legal fees until the end of March. Some members have pointed out that this may pose a risk and the work of the committee could come to a standstill.
In just over a week, the office of the Public Protector will stop paying for Mkhwebane’s legal fees. That office says it has run out of funds as the legal fees were not budgeted for.
But Mkhwebane has the backing of a Constitutional Court ruling that she has a right to legal representation at the inquiry.
“So which means now we’ve got a risk. The risk of the programme going beyond what the PPSA said would fund,” says Gijimani Skosana, an African National Congress (ANC) MP.
“The ruling of the ConCourt that says the Public Protector has a right to legal representation and the PPSA has been funding that particular process. Now if the PPSA says now we don’t have funds. What is going to happen then if the legal representatives they then withdraw to say we can’t continue because there is nobody who is going to pay us, are we going to continue from the 1st of April without representation, if we are continuing is the PP not going to go back to the ConCourt and say I’m proceeding with the enquiry without representatives, there’s nobody who will to pay for representation. Or are we expecting the PP to pay for herself?” Skosana adds.
The committee will now approach other stakeholders to resolve the funding challenge.
“It can’t be wished away because after next week Friday, if that is not attended, there’s no work and therefore it has to be attended and the suggestion is that as this committee of inquiry that’s not necessarily our space but that work can be done to ensure that those that can drive and can be responsible including the justice committee with the minister who can link up with the speaker that that must be done as a matter of urgency. So that by next week before the 31st there is finality,” Qubudile Dyantyi, Chairperson of the inquiry says.
The committee has also been forced to revise its programme which was to be concluded by the end of April. It is now anticipated it will conclude at the end of May, if all goes well.
Mkhwebane, who was due to testify on Thursday, reported that she was booked off sick until Monday. The committee now wants to balance procedural fairness and completing its work.
“It feels like we are chasing a race that actually doesn’t have an end. Honourable even went as far as saying we must amend this programme. I propose we go back to drawing board and allow members to participate in committee oversight work we’re already committed to,” says Brett Herro, Good Party MP.
“Everything we are going to do now is about managing risk and therefore we’ve got to prioritise as we do that because we don’t have an infinite time as a resource we’ve gone beyond and we keep kind of stretching that,” Dyantyi elaborates.
Mkhwebane will be back before the committee on Tuesday.