The Parliamentary hearing into the suitability of suspended Public Protector Busiswe Mkhwebane to hold office resumed on Monday. The first witness was the Public Protector of Zambia Caroline Zulu-Sokoni.
Advocate Dali Mpofu appearing on behalf of Mkhwebane, started by asking her about the role of the Public Protector, also known as Ombudsman in other countries.
Zulu-Sokoni was asked why it is important for the office of the Public Protector to be protected. She said in many instances these protections are lacking and the office cannot investigate the executive freely.
Zulu-Sokoni has been the Public Protector in Zambia since 2004.
Under the guidance of Mpofu, she outlined some of the work of similar offices in other parts of the continent and around the world.
Public Protector of Zambia, Caroline Zulu-Sokoni was quizzed by Advocate Dali Mpofu:
She emphasised the importance of ensuring that the office of the Public Protector has adequate protection from interference by the executive.
Zulu-Sokoni explained, “There are a lot of underlying problems in order for the ombudsman to be able to operate independently. If you look at all the principles… the very office that created it, the very office that funds it and the very office which is supposed to pay the salaries of the members of staff and the ombudsman himself.”
From the start of the hearings, Advocate Mpofu has maintained that many of the staff of the Public Protector’s office who have testified against her were disgruntled employees.
He asked Zulu-Sokoni whether it was appropriate that parliament entertained such complaints.
In the context of the question, she replied that this was not appropriate: “Each of these people, if they have a grudge against the office of the ombudsman they have a right to go to any court of law of tribunal… through the one institution which the office of the ombuds is accountable to. It seems odd.”
In reality, however, Mkhwebane is appearing before the committee charged with incompetence and misconduct.
The evidence by staff and former staff is to support the charge that she failed to protect the staff against harassment.
“If SA is bound by the Venice principles and we have shown so many areas in which this process flouts those Venice principles… and you can come back and say maybe this is the right route that I have to take. All of us are on the same journey,” the Public Protector of Zambia added.