Pretoria – Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has hit the ground running during her first 100 days in office, despite a challenging start.
Mkhwebane‚ who succeeded Thuli Madonsela‚ was appointed in mid-October for the standard seven-year term.
Addressing members of the media on Thursday, she said the first 100 days started off by holding meetings with her staff and management, with the view of understanding her key roles and responsibilities.
She presented the institution’s annual report in Parliament, hosted the 5th General Assembly of the African Ombudsman and Mediators’ Association and interacted with the community of Khayelitsha regarding service delivery issues.
The Public Protector also issued eight section 7 (9) notices and provincial reports in the last three months following investigations of maladministration against SARS, Department of Home Affairs, Agri Sector Education Training Authority, Transnet, Department of Mineral Resources and the South African Nuclear Energy Cooperation, among others.
Under her watch, the institution is also awaiting quality assurance of 19 draft reports, which include the alleged irregular acquisition of the VVIP planes for the Presidency, alleged maladministration against the Rustenburg Local Municipality and alleged use of public funds by the Eastern Cape government in preparation for the funeral of the later former President Nelson Mandela.
In the midst of this, Mkhwebane has managed to release three investigation reports relating to ordinary members of the public, such as the pensioners from Vhembe District in Limpopo and a member of the public allegedly prejudiced by the conduct of officials at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
“It’s been quite a busy time for our investigation branches. Between October and December 2016, the total number of cases at hand was 7 556. By the end of that quarter, we managed to finalise 2 083,” Mkhwebane told a packed media briefing.
Case backlog a challenge
However, she said the case backlog remains a challenge.
“At the beginning of this financial year, we had 449 cases that were older than a year. By the end of the last quarter, we had managed to reduce that backlog to 259, with 72 cases being closed up (sic).
“The institution also had 719 cases that were older than two years by the end of April 2016. But the figure stood at 518 in December 2016, with 87 cases closed up. But the challenge that the institution faces is in fulfilling its mandate due to underfunding. The office has been located R263.3 million for this financial year.
“Only half of our organisational structure is funded, which means we operate at half our potential,” Mkhwebane said.
A bumpy ride
In all, Mkhwebane described her first 100 days as “bumpy” — from the negative media reports about being aligned to certain individuals and allegations that she is a former spy.
These reports, she said, are “half -truths, fabrications, innuendoes and vitriol” to her.
“It was not expected. I have worked here before from 1999 to 2005. But never before have I observed so much public interest in this constitutional institution,” she said.
Mkhwebane said she will forge ahead with the institution’s mandate, restructuring process (which seeks to align operations with the new vision), meeting their 45 performance goals and filling vacant posts.
From 16 February, Mkhwebane said she will embark on a four-month, nationwide stakeholder engagement roadshow. This will see her interacting with provincial government executives, provincial legislatures, members of the public and political parties represented in Parliament.
The session, she said, will allow her to formally introduce herself, communicate her vision to solicit their views and to increase awareness of the mandate of the Public Protector.