Public Protector dispels misconception about her office and urges the community to approach her office with legitimate complaints
Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Friday dismissed as untrue the popular misconception that her office is a powerless institution that can only make recommendations upon discovering wrongdoing in state affairs.
Addressing a Heritage Month commemoration in Beaufort West, Western Cape, the Public Protector said she had no idea where people got that notion from as it was in conflict with what the Constitution of the country states.
“The supreme law of the country clear states that ‘the Public Protector has the power as regulated by national legislation to take appropriate remedial action’,” she told locals at Rustdene Community Hall.
“If someone broke your leg and they were required to take appropriate remedial action to fix it, would a suggestion or recommendation on how to fix your leg qualify as remedial action? You be the judge.”
The Public Protector argued that suggestions that her office did not have power were not supported by the Public Protector Act, explaining that the legislation stated in Section 8 that she may communicate her “finding”.
She clarified that a “finding”, which is the word also used by Constitution in articulating the mandate of the Public Protector, was not a suggestion but a “firm determination”.
On why her office held outreach events such as this one and many others that have taken place across the country, the Public Protector dispelled ill-informed views that the office is “media-hogging”.
She pointed out that in holding outreach activities, including Stakeholder Dialogues; the office is merely living up to section 182(4) of the Constitution, which requires the Public Protector to be accessible to all persons and communities.
“I have recently been asked by some Parliamentarians why do I always deal with small issues. My response is that small issues are big issues to small people,” she said.
The Public Protector said the Heritage Month theme of “Reclaiming, Restoring and Celebrating our Living Heritage” and that of Freedom Fridays were appropriate as the country neared the 20th anniversary of democracy.
She said the themes underscored there need for a patriotic nation that need to be proud of its achievements, including ranking number five on the Mo Ibrahim Good Governance Index and being among the world’s top 50 innovative nations.
South Africa was also a country that boasted four Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, the Public Protector said, adding that there had been more Nobel Prize recipients and accolades in other areas.
However, she implored South Africans to be more frank with themselves and ask whether the country had done enough to create the necessary conditions for the people to enjoy the fruits of democracy.
“More specifically, is it possible that maladministration in the last 20 years may have hampered the state’s contribution towards making real the improved quality of life and freed potential of all as promised in the Constitution ?” the Public Protector asked.
She called on the public to partner with her office not only to remedy the injustice they might have suffered in their dealings with officialdom, but also work jointly with her to advice government on how to treat its people.
The Public Protector said, however, that in line with the call for patriotism, communities must do more than just complain, encouraging them to play a part in solving the problems facing the nation.
“Why don’t we light a candle instead of simply moaning the darkness? The first thing is to always politely point out to public authorities when you see or experience wrongdoing. When we say nothing, wrong doers think it is okay and continue with their wrongdoing. Play you part in preventing wrong doing and promote good governance and a government that is accountable,” she said.
“The consequence is that others start seeing this as the way to go and start doing the same. Before we know it, wrongdoing becomes a culture and later a heritage.”
At the event, communities of Beaufort West told the Public Protector about their problems. These included alleged communication failure between the municipality and the community particularly regarding the conclusion of IDP consultation processes; inconsistencies in the implementation of the Municipality’s Indigent Policy and maladministration within the municipality regarding certain contracts and employment opportunities. The majority of complaints related Departments such as Home Affairs, Human Settlements, Health, Land Affairs, labour and SASSA. The Khoisan community specifically complained about its alleged marginalisation and requested that the Public Protector facilitates an engagement with the Premier of the Western Cape Province.
Regarding Home affairs, an old woman told the Public Protector she was born in 1946 and her ID says she was born in 1964 and that her efforts aimed at getting Home Affairs to correct the obvious mistake had yielded nothing. The Public Protector was also asked to help a young girl in matric who is depressed and stopped going to school because she has failed to get assistance from Home Affairs regarding an ID.
Health issues included a complaint regarding the North West Day Hospital, where it was alleged that the staff is rude and vulgar. For the Provincial Department of Human Settlements, there were a few complaints regarding the quality and distribution criteria for RDP Houses and one Land Claims issue for the Department of Land affairs. One Complaint was received for the Department of Labour and the GPAA, all involving monies outstanding for a long time.
She concluded by urging community members to approach her office about any legitimate grievance about the conduct of government and in state affairs. She also asked all to play their part in lifting someone and improving governance.