Cracks in the public sector oversight system should be of equal concern – Public Protector

Public Protector, Adv Thuli Madonsela has advised parties in Parliament that concerns regarding public oversight weaknesses should transcend concerns over mandate overlaps and also consider matters that fall through the cracks.

She was presenting on her office’s mandate, role and function during a workshop organised by the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services and Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency.

The Public Protector explained that some oversight structures have incomplete mandates and may not have the power to remedy administrative wrongs or conduct failures.

She gave an example of a case of whistle blowers left in limbo for 10 months since October 2013 with one out of work since December. The Public Protector referred the complaint to the Public Service Commission (PSC) which indicated that they have no jurisdiction to investigate. The complaint was then referred to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) whose proclamation was signed but withheld. There has been no investigation on the matter to date.

Explaining that the National Development Plan (NDP) recognises overlaps, notes cracks and poor coordination, the Public Protector said the plan further recommends the strengthening through resourcing, improved coordination and respect of her office.

She said NDP approach is consistent with the Asmal Report and Supreme Court of Appeal sentiments in the Public Protector versus the Mail & Guardian case regarding the role and importance of the Public Protector in the pursuit of good governance through public accountability.

In the case concerned, the court held that the Public Protector provides a “last defence against bureaucratic oppression and against corruption and malfeasance in public office that is capable of insidiously destroying the nation”. The court added that if the Public Protector’s office is undermined, the nation would lose an “indispensable constitutional guarantee”.

She indicated that even though overlaps are impossible to eradicate since her office operates within a multi-agency oversight structures, the focus should be to prevent duplication. She emphasised that what it is important is not to start investigations when another structure is already investigating and that her office adheres to these values.

The Public Protector quoted the late former President, Nelson Mandela, who said, in ensuring several constitutional mechanisms to ensure that government is not part of the problem but the solution, South Africa’s experience had made his administration “acutely aware of the possible dangers of a government that is neither transparent of accountable”.

She also drew the attention of parties to Article 15 of 2011 of the African Union, which calls for the establishment of, support and effectiveness of ombudsman institutions such as her office, and other institutions supporting democracy.

In a prepared presentation, which she eventually could not present in full, the Public Protector reiterated her appeal for adequate resourcing to help her office live up to its constitutional mandate which requires it to be accessible to all persons and communities.

Issued by:

Kgalalelo Masibi
Public Protector South Africa
(012) 366 7006
079 507 0399

Published Date: 
Wednesday, August 20, 2014