Public Protector urges state legal advisers to be ‘voices of reason’
Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela has appealed to state legal advisers to act like voices of reason when executing their duties rather than defending indefensible wrongs of the state or encouraging non-compliance during investigations and implementation of her findings.
Addressing the annual general meeting of the Cape Law Society in Port Alfred, Eastern Cape on Friday, the Public Protector said some of the responses she often received from government when her office enquired as part of investigations were confrontational rather than engaging her in the spirit of Section 181(3) of the Constitution.
She pointed out that the Constitution required organs of state to support Chapter Nine institutions, including her office, to ensure these institutions’ independence and effectiveness, among other things.
“Lawyers must be voices of reason and not hired assassins when they provide legal advice to organs of state. We don’t want to live in a country where might is right. We certainly do not want a state that uses its power to undermine its own citizens,” she said.
However, citing a case where a pupil from Soweto lost both his legs after a tree fell on him while in a container classroom, the Public Protector said the conduct of the of the provincial education department was exemplary.
“The swift justice and empathy in which the matter was addressed is a lesson to be emulated in legal advice to the state in other matters where government has acted wrongfully or unjustly,” she said.
Quoting former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, the Public Protector told the gathering that the importance of her office was especially clear, where there was a desperate need for basic human needs such as food, drinking water, health care, housing, education and social security.
“Our countries cannot bear the improper allocation of government resources. Having a Public Protector with a mandate to investigate and publicly report in government administration is essential,” she said, adding that lawyers had an important role to ensure that this happened.
The Public Protector added that she was interested in hearing from legal professionals on whether they agreed that her office existed to curb excesses in the exercise of state power by exacting accountability.
She also asked if lawyers they agreed that the Public Protector, as an ombudsman office, existed to investigate and correct administrative injustices in the exercise of public power and to ensure that public power and resources are always used in accordance with the law and the public interest.
Lawyers, the Public Protector said, had always been at the forefront of the struggle for human rights and freedom and this made the legal community an important stakeholder for her office.
She specifically highlighted that her office interfaced with lawyers as representatives of complainants, representatives of the state and that her office often referred matters to the legal profession to provide pro bono legal assistance to poor people that her office cannot assist.
She invited the legal profession to work with her office to help government to always do the right thing when called to account for its administrative actions, giving the people a voice to engage meaningfully with those they have entrusted with public power.
Issued by: Public Protector South Africa
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Public Protector South Africa
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