Members of the public are the “teeth of the Public Protector”

The teeth of the Public Protector are members of the public, Adv. Thuli Madonsela has said.
In a speech delivered at the University of Johannesburg, the Public Protector said once she had released investigation reports, the public had to take over and demand accountability from the authorities implicated therein.
Some members of the public had called her office “toothless” when authorities did not implement remedies outlined in her reports, she said.
“I have heard members of the public saying ‘They haven’t implemented your reports. That means you are a toothless dog!” the Public Protector said.
“If I am a toothless dog, that means society, as my teeth, is dead because a Public Protector operates as the conscience of government and the voice of the people.”
Once she had made findings of improper conduct it was up to the wrongdoer to make amends, the Public Protector explained. However, when that failed, society had to come in and demand that the right things be done.
The Public Protector said institutions such as her office were established primarily to strengthen the public’s participation in constitutional democracy, which she defined an on-going dialogue between government and the people.
She said the role of an Ombudsman such as herself was to investigate, report and take the matter back to society, explaining that this was the reason her office made use of the media when releasing reports.
Her office could not speak directly to each of the millions of members of society and had to rely on the media to take the information to the rest of the public so that they could participate in dialogue and exact accountability on those implicated.
“We call it moral suasion because, as society, we know what is right and wrong,” the Public Protector said.
She shared an anecdote –told through a poem- of six people that died from cold weather while watching the fire they sat around die slowly. Each of them selfishly held onto a log of fire wood they could have used to sustain the fire for their benefit.
“They didn’t die from the cold without; they died from the cold within,” the poem went.
The Public Protector called on members of the public to –unlike the six people referred to in the poem- play their role both individually and as a collective to ensure that they take part in governing the country.
She reiterated the point that people’s participation in governing should not end with votes every five years.
“You work with [government] to ensure that guidance is provided on what policies need to be put in place to ensure that they take care of your affairs and ensure that what they do is responsive to all of your needs,” the Public Protector said.
She called on people at local government levels to take part in planning sessions such as Integrated Development Plan meetings.
Such platforms, the Public Protector said, presented the public with the opportunity to ensure that items that were captured in the plans gave due priority to the things that would bring development to communities.
“If we do so, we are not going to die from ‘the cold within’ because we will use our logs of wood to ensure that the fire of constitutional democracy is not just sustained but is given more energy,” she concluded.
For more information, contact:
Kgalalelo Masibi
Spokesperson: Public Protector South Africa
(012) 366 7006
079 507 0399
Published Date: 
Monday, June 2, 2014
Statement Description: 
Members of the public are the “teeth of the Public Protector”