Monday, August 6, 2012

The Public Protector needs protecting

The Public Protector needs protecting
Jack Bloom
06 August 2012

Jack Bloom says Thuli Madonsela's office lacks the resources to handle the volume of complaints

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is undoubtedly a public asset. She strives to be independent and objective, unlike her predecessor who mostly fudged things that could embarrass the ruling party.

She is also energetic and conscientious. I was mightily impressed when she personally phoned me late Friday afternoon to clarify a point in a referred matter.

Complaints lodged with her office have jumped since she took over, from 12 435 in 2008/9 to 20 218 in 2011/12.

This is a good sign that people have confidence that she will investigate fearlessly and put things right. Her reputation is boosted by high profile cases like the scandalous R1.78 billion police headquarters deal.

Madonsela's report on this led ultimately to the dismissal of Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele.

The vast majority of cases, however, are from aggrieved individuals. Her office investigates improper conduct, or maladministration, defined as "when public power is exercised outside the boundaries of the Constitution or law".

The problem is that her office is vastly under-resourced to handle all the complaints.

Each investigator processes on average 254 cases a month. The backlog is more than 9 500 cases, many from the previous year.

Early last year I referred a case of the head of emergency services in Gauteng apparently using an emergency vehicle illegally.

This should have been sorted out quite speedily, but has still not been finalised.

There are unacceptable delays in many important cases. Another issue is the lack of follow-up.

In August 2010 a damning report found that Abalozi Security got a lucrative contract with the Gauteng Roads and Transport Department without it going out to tender.

R71 million was paid to this company which was partly owned by General Siphiwe Nyanda, who later became Communications Minister.

It was a giant rip-off, as a replacement security company now does the job far more cheaply.

The Protector's report made recommendations that were to be monitored over a period of six months.

President Jacob Zuma was supposed to direct the Gauteng premier to investigate improper conduct that led to the award of the Abalozi contract.

A general investigation was also recommended into all contracts of more than a million rand that were awarded without tender to see if there was systemic abuse.

Two years later none of this has happened, which nullifies everything the Protector's office has done in this matter.

This is why many corruption-busting exercises fail. Reports are done, and then nothing happens because of a lack of political will to implement recommendations.

It was only sustained public pressure that eventually forced Zuma to act against Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Bheki Cele.

But many other cases just fade from public view.

Madonsela has powers to obtain information, but does not have real power to compel the president to act on her reports.

This is the glaring gap in the Public Protector's anti-corruption efforts.

We should treasure Madonsela while we can as she serves her non-renewable seven year term.

It is highly likely that government will try to ensure that her successor is more pliant.

Meanwhile, they will starve her office of resources and quietly evade many of her recommendations.

Jack Bloom MPL is DA caucus leader in the Gauteng legislature. This article first appeared in The Citizen.

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1 comment:

  1. The Public Protector has become a 'toothless witch!'
    No wonder the Metro's commit Fraud/Theft and get away with it!
    She is outsourced and is becoming dysfunctional due to lack of funding!