Mkhwebane grilled over Absa report

PP tells committee she had learnt a lesson from the incident

Cape Town – Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane received a grilling from opposition MPs on Thursday, with much of their queries and criticism relating to her controversial report on Absa, while ANC MPs defended her.

In June Mkhwebane found that in granting financial aid to the apartheid-era bank Bankorp, the South African Reserve Bank had failed to comply with the South African Reserve Bank Act. Absa later bought Bankorp.

Mkhwebane ordered Absa to pay back the R1.125bn that the Reserve Bank granted to Bankorp and also prescribed that Parliament change the Constitution to also include in the Reserve Bank's mandate that it must promote balanced and sustainable economic growth and ensure that the socio-economic well-being of citizens is protected.

Absa took the report on review, as did Parliament, and Mkhwebane decided not to oppose Parliament's review application.

"All you should do is resign," said EFF MP Sam Matiase when Mkhwebane appeared before the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services on Thursday. He said nothing could undo the damage the Public Protector had caused.

"You bungled the most crucial matter," he said, adding that the R1.125bn that Absa would have had to pay back could have been used to uplift the poor.

"It's a mistake of monumental proportions that you [made]."

'Disastrous legal advice'

ANC MP Loyiso Mpumlwana raised a point of order, saying Matiase was impugning Mkhwebane's character.

ACDP MP Steve Swart said when "the very same attacks" were made by ANC MPs against Mkhwebane's predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, he had raised similar points of order.

"We were overruled," Swart said.

Acting chairperson Charlotte Pilane-Majake said the point of order was sustained.

DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach called the Absa report shambolic.

"Who provided you with such disastrous legal advice? And as an advocate, why did you follow such advice?" asked Breytenbach, herself an advocate.

Swart joined Breytenbach in questioning the legal advice Mkhwebane received for the Absa report.

"We've been deeply shocked about the remedial action in the Absa case," he said.

'Honourable Public Protector, I'm here for you'

ANC MP Bongani Bongo said the Public Protecctor's decision to not oppose Parliament's review of the Absa report was an "intelligent move".

"The Reserve Bank is an issue still to be pushed," he said.

Before Mpumlwana asked his questions, he expressed his support for Mkhwebane.

"Honourable Public Protector, I'm here for you," he said.

"In certain cases, you touched a nerve of monopoly capital, and according to them you must be pushed out," he said.

"Honourable Mpumlwana, thanks for the support," responded Mkhwebane when she answered questions.

Lesson learnt

Mkhwebane said she didn't intend to issue an instruction to Parliament.

"The intention was to recommend that this (the Reserve Bank's role) needs to be looked into," she said.

She said she had learnt a lesson from the incident.

Mkhwebane said she didn't receive legal advice in drafting the report, which was done by senior investigators. Systems have since been put in place to ensure every report first goes through the legal team.

After the meeting, Pilane-Majake released a statement noting Mkhwebane's explanations regarding the Reserve Bank court action on her remedial action.

"The committee accepts her explanation that she had not meant to instruct Parliament to amend the Constitution, but merely recommending that [the issue] should be given the necessary attention. The committee is of the opinion that this flawed action should not overshadow attempts to investigate the role of the Reserve Bank in the reduction of poverty in South Africa."