Mkhwebane's critics must prove 'incompetence' – Jackson Mthembu

ANC Chief Whip also scoffs at suggestion his party is following EFF's lead on land

Mkhwebane's critics must prove 'incompetence' – Mthembu

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu says critics of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane must provide evidence of her supposed "incompetence" if they want her removed from office.

Mthembu held a press briefing in Parliament on Thursday to deliver a summary of the party's performance during the first half of 2018.

During a round of questions, Mthembu was asked what the ANC's stance was in the ongoing process in the justice portfolio committee to review Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office.

"The ANC will not go against the [Public Protector] Act that has created that office. Anyone who says the Public Protector is no longer fit needs to prove to all of us that the Public Protector is incompetent and, through evidence, unable to run that office."

He said there were three very distinct reasons over which the Public Protector's performance can be reviewed: gross misconduct, incapacity or incompetence.

Mthembu questioned the onslaught of criticism heaped on Mkhwebane following high-profile court judgments against some of her reports.

'Where is the evidence?'

"If a court of law finds Jackson Mthembu guilty of a particular crime, and he takes it to the appeal court... and that court says, 'no, no he is not guilty'.

"By this definition, should we also find that the lower court was incompetent? It can't be correct. That's why we have all these safeguards in the Constitution."

So far, Mkhwebane has not been proven to be incompetent, he said.

"The safeguard is there for all institutions to impact on their decisions. Their decisions can be reviewed, and does not necessarily make the Public Protector not fit to hold office. That is my view."

Mthembu said that they would "of course" support any proven evidence that, notwithstanding all the safeguards, Mkhwebane was incompetent.

"But we must still prove [it]," he added.

The portfolio committee meanwhile agreed on Wednesday to wait for a reply from Mkhwebane before deciding on whether to green-light a request to hold an inquiry into her fitness to hold office.

Land: For those saying we followed EFF, please look at facts

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu scoffed at suggestions that the ruling party has followed the EFF's lead in the parliamentary process around land expropriation without compensation.

During a round of questions, Mthembu denied suggestions that the ANC was allowing the EFF to dominate the debate around whether the Constitution's "property clause" should be amended.

"Is the ANC following the opposition? We have not followed the opposition on the minimum wage. I'm not sure how many opposition parties wanted the minimum wage, first of all.

"On the public audit amendments, where we ourselves said we need to give the Auditor-General more teeth, nobody even spoke on those issues.

"I don't know why people are only picking on one issue: expropriation of land without compensation."

'Look at facts'

Mthembu said there were differences in what the EFF proposed in their motion on February 27 and what the ANC ultimately decided through the Parliamentary process.

"The EFF wanted to create a committee that will look into section 25 of the Constitution and change it, and the ANC said no.

"We do have a Constitutional Review Committee of Parliament, so there is a mechanism given already. So I don't know who was following who, because we did not follow the EFF to establish an ad hoc committee.

"You can go back and even get the original motion brought by the EFF. I will therefore say all those who are saying we are just following some people, please look at facts.

"Facts do not support that assertion."

Mthembu joked that he wasn't even sure if the EFF had supported any of the 13 bills passed in Parliament since February.

"Now how on earth are we tailing the EFF? It's a misnomer. The argument is a little pedestrian, to be honest."

Mthembu was also critical of the EFF's recent statements in Parliament on the land issue. The party repeated its call for people to "occupy land" during President Cyril Ramaphosa's budget debate on May 23.

'It's a criminal act'

He said Parliament needed to consider whether members' privileges under the Powers, Privileges and Immunities Act were being abused in the name of freedom of expression.

MPs are free from sanction when making statements in Parliament, including legal processes.

"Can I under the guise of freedom of expression call for a criminal act to be undertaken using my privilege as a Member of Parliament? I don't think so. It's something Parliament must look at."

He also wondered what recourse there was for members of the public when they felt an MP had violated their privilege.

"Where do you go to express your contrary view that this is not freedom of expression; that this is criminal conduct? That's my view. It's criminal conduct calling on the nation to commit a criminal act."

In his statement, Mthembu praised the "historic" resolution to look at the land matter as a "bold step" towards addressing the "original sin of land dispossession and landlessness".

He encouraged members of the public to continue making written submissions to Parliament until Friday's deadline. Thereafter, Parliament embarks on its provincial tour from June 26 to August 4.

Details on how to submit a written submission can be found on Parliament's website HERE. Read the updated provincial tour schedule HERE.

Ramaphosa has 'done well'

Mthembu praised his party's work at the half-way mark of the legislative year.

The National Assembly goes into recess from Friday, and only returns in mid-August, between three and four weeks later than usual.

The chief whip said the extended break was to move "closer to a 50-50 split" between time spent with constituencies and in Parliament.

He admitted that the extended break would likely not be the norm in future years, adding fuel to speculation that the decision had been made with one eye on the looming 2019 general elections.

Mthembu also praised Ramaphosa's record as president since his election in February, saying he had "done well".

"He has promised to deal with any matters that smack of corruption. And from where we are seated, we think he has delivered on that promise.

"We are seeing some state-owned entities where there were indications of wrongdoing, and not only Eskom, where new boards, CEOs and COOs are being installed.

"This is indeed a step in the right direction."

'No divisions in ANC caucus'

As for his own caucus, Mthembu admitted that there had been some problems in caucus prior to Ramaphosa's election in February.

However, tensions had quietened since, with Mthembu even claiming there had been "no divisions in caucus" in the first place.

"The election of a new leadership has not necessarily improved any divisions that were not there.

"Yes, I would agree with you that there were incidents of ill-discipline, but those have been resolved."

He did not want to go into detail into which incidents he meant when pressed, but conceded that some of the members stepped "way out of line".

Some of the incidents included five ANC MPs demanding former portfolio committee chairperson Makhosi Khoza be removed from her position during a meeting; another five appearing on ANN7 to slam one of Mthembu's decisions, and accusations of misconduct and assault against a handful of male MPs, including Mduduzi Manana and Mervyn Dirks.