Public Protector disappointed by the leaked investigation, dismisses claims of Gordhan ‘harassment’

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Solly Makganoto

JOHANNESBURG – Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has on Friday said that she is disappointed by the leaking of a subpoena by the media within hours of it being served on the Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, and the related commentary attributed to both Gordhan’s attorney and spokesperson.

Mkhwebane added that she is concerned that the subpoena was leaked without due regard for details of investigation staff in her office, including names and contact numbers as this compromises them and makes their jobs difficult.

Gordhan was served with a subpoena by the Public Protector in relation to the Sars “rogue unit” on Thursday.

On Friday Mkhwebane’s office said the probe was legitimate.

“[The Public Protector] has, in the past, subpoenaed and interviewed numerous Ministers, Members of Executive Councils and Premiers as part of investigations. Not once did any of these public office-bearers take issue with this, label it ‘harassment’ or see it as a source of irritation,” she said.

According to Mkhwebane the subpoena relates to investigation into allegations of improper conduct and a violation of the Executive Ethics Code, irregular and unlawful activities by the Minister.

Gordhan’s office said they regard the Public Protector’s subpoena related to the Sars so-called rogue unit to be part of a fightback campaign to disrupt efforts to uncover malfeasance in government.

“This comes on the back of similarly baseless comments in the public domain that  Mkhwebane’s investigations concerning allegations levelled against Minister Gordhan are part of factional battles involving a political party”.

Mkhwebane said she wishes to point out that an investigation is essentially a fact-finding mission that can go either way.

“In the event the evidence before me points to wrongdoing, I will make adverse findings. Should the evidence point to the opposite, I will exonerate those alleged to have acted improperly. It is therefore in the interest of all those whose conduct is under investigation to cooperate with my processes so as to clear their names.

“Regarding the fact that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) abandoned criminal charges against Minister Gordhan on similar issues as those before the Public Protector, Adv. Mkhwebane wishes to reiterate the point that her investigation focuses on maladministration while the NPA pursued the criminal aspects of the case”, said Mkhwebane.

The Public Protector said another false statement that has been bandied about is that the “rogue unit” matter was previously dealt with by the former Public Protector and that she found no wrongdoing.

“The truth is that a former South African Revenue Service employee approached the Public Protector in 2012, alleging that the appointment of investigators to a “National Research Group (NRG)” at the institution was irregular as there were no employment contracts concluded between the investigators and SARS and neither were the appointments made in compliance with SARS recruitment processes”.

Mkhwebane added that the former employee, who said he was part of the NRG, added that the investigators were home-based and not operating from SARS business premises.

“The complainant further explained that the NRG was a “surreptitious investigative branch ostensibly to carry out clandestine specialized investigations against unsuspecting civilians, politicians and prominent businessmen for tax evasion”.

“He, at the time, furnished the Public Protector with 19 names of alleged NRG investigators and 13 names of the civilians, politicians and prominent businessmen, who were allegedly under surveillance from the NRG. That investigation, which was closed on 11 October 2017, and not by the former Public Protector as alleged, on the grounds that it was being dealt with by the Inspector General of Intelligence, was part of a backlog of cases that were being addressed.

“The focus of that matter is not to be confused with the current investigation, which deals with allegations that Minister Gordhan established the “rogue unit” during his tenure as SARS Commissioner in violation of South African Intelligence prescripts including sections 209 and 41 (1)(e) of the Constitution”, she said.

Mkhwebane sad she wishes to reiterate her position that she will not conduct her investigation in the glare of the public so as to avoid jeopardizing it. However, she has had to issue this statement in a bid to protect the integrity of the investigation.

She is also  Media houses are therefore implored to refrain from publishing such details and the contents of leaked investigation documents in general.