CEO responds to “inaccurate” news report
Dear Editor-in-Chief. On page 5 of its last edition, the Mail and Guardian carried a story with the headline “PUBLIC GRILLING FOR PUBLIC PROTECTOR”.Though the headline suggested that the focus of the story would be on the serious allegations pertaining to how the Portfolio Committee on Justice intended to conduct an investigation –requested by the Public Protector- into alleged bad governance within her office as contained in a series anonymous letters sent to Parliament and leaked to the media, I noted that the content was in the main about my alleged conduct.
I had been anticipating the story after I was contacted on Twitter by a journalist from your newspaper, asking me to respond to some of the allegations leveled against me in one of the anonymous letters. I was grateful for the opportunity as it granted me a right of reply to present my side of the story. Naturally, I made use of this opportunity telephonically and by text whilst I was in New Zealand, which is 13 hours ahead of South African time. I even requested specific questions in writing to my personally email, which were not forthcoming.
I was, however, saddened by the manner in which the final story was presented. This is because the two main issues that the journalist raised with me, which I duly responded to, were not reflected in the story.
The first issue relates to an allegation that I faked the Deputy Public Protector’s signature in order to pay myself a bonus. The other is that I lied to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts about the vetting of Public Protector South Africa staff. I was never asked to respond to the third and fourth issues raised, i.e. that unhappiness in the letter was directed at me and that a corrupt official (me) has been “unleashed”, as mentioned and quoted in the article.
During my telephonic conversation with the journalist concerned, which followed our Twitter engagement, I responded comprehensively to the first and second issues. I further sent a text message to the same journalist, reiterating what I had said during our telecommunication moments earlier. It came as a surprise when these specific comments failed to make it into the final story.
For the record, I would like to state that all the above allegations are baseless. I was cleared by the Inspector General of Intelligence, Adv. Faith Radebe, who was appointed by the Public Protector to investigate the allegation of a faked signature when it first surfaced. Needless to say, this information is public knowledge. A leading Sunday newspaper already published it a few weeks back. In addition, this information was previously communicated to the media through a press release, which has since been posted on the Public Protector South Africa website.
On the second matter, I indicated to the journalist during our telephonic discussion that I was asked, during an appearance before Scopa, whether the staff within the Public protector’s office had been vetted as this is important considering the nature of their work. I responded in the affirmative and this, to my knowledge, was the honest truth as I went through a vetting process by NIA prior to my appointment to the position of CEO at Public Protector South Africa.
With regard to the third matter, which is that “unhappiness” is directed at me, this is not true. I’m not the only one mentioned therein, but the journalist concerned, for reasons know to her chose to single me out.
The fourth issue relates to the quotation in the article that the Public Protector “unleashed a corrupt official…” Again this is defamatory and untruthful. I was never accused nor found guilty of any corruption. It is reckless for the journalist to continue peddling such defamatory information. I would have appreciated it if the first two points, as communicated to the journalist concerned, were reflected in the story and the third and the fourth communicated to me or investigated before publishing.
I am of the view that failure on the part of the journalist to include these points in the story violated my right to dignity, tarnished my good name and dented my reputation. As a professional from the integrity sector, I cannot overemphasise the importance of being seen to be beyond reproach. To an average reader, the story as it has been presented, casts me as a corrupt individual despite the fact that no due process ever found me guilty of maladministration or corruption.
As a senior official of the Public Protector South Africa, I welcome efforts by anyone, including the media, to hold me to account. However, the principle of fair reporting needs to be adhered to so that people are not improperly prejudiced.
The watchdog role of the media is one of the pillars that keep our constitutional democracy vibrant. The impact of this and the unwavering support of the media on the work of the Public Protector have been immeasurable. The Public Protector herself has said as much.
We will continue to work with the media to exact accountability in the exercise of public power and control over state resources while also relying on the “fourth estate” to live up to section 182 (4) of the Constitution, which mandates the Public Protector to be accessible to all persons and communities.
We will also continue to welcome efforts by the media to hold us to account and if need be, to red-card us. But we will also expect a fair process. I trust that the injustice and misery I have suffered and am still suffering as a result of this publication will be redressed. I thank those who have posted unwavering messages of support online and sent some to me.
With kind regards
Mr. Themba Mthethwa
Chief Executive Officer: Public Protector South Africa