Silencing a Public Protector

The Fascinating Story of Thula Madonsela and Being Undermined

By Rui Lopes

The Public Protector, in theory, was designed and created to strengthen the constitutional democracy within South Africa along with the other Constitutional Institutions established under Chapter 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.[1] In order to strengthen this constitutional democracy, it is imperative that the Public Protector be independent from any governmental branch or agency, as making it accountable to the exact organs it seeks to protect society from renders it ineffective and voiceless. What follows is an elaboration on the role of the Public Protector within a constitutionally democratic South Africa and whether its purpose and effectiveness has in essence fallen into redundancy by making it accountable to Parliament.

Thula Madonsela

Thula Madonsela

Establishing a constitutionally democratic Public Protector

The unfailing oppressiveness and secretiveness of the Apartheid government lead to a distrust of such a government and one which was consequently not open and accountable.[2] State organs could and often did act ultra vires, doing whatever they wished regardless of whether such powers were given to them, and would not need to be accountable for any such actions.[3]

However with the dawning of a constitutional democracy in 1994, the need to divide the once monopolised parliamentary power among all branches of government and the implementation of checks and balances ensuring that all branches of government became accountable towards one another became imperative in securing the ideal of a democratic nation once founded upon racial oppression and impunity.[4] With the implementation of the 1993 Interim Constitution, in terms of principle 29,  the office of the Public Protector was first established and by including it the Constitutional Principles, secured its existence within the final Constitution.[5]

The Public Protector was designed to assist in the transformation of an oppressive society into an open and democratic society, creating an accountable and credible government through the re-establishment and respect of the rule of law. No longer was government above the law nor could they do a they wished, rather the government was in theory, accountable to the people of the nation, echoing the entire theory of the social contract.[6] Consequently the office of the Public Protector was ideally to act as a check between the Executive and Legislative branches of government and to provide a link between the citizens and such branches.[7] 

The powers, functions and duties of the office of the Public Protector

The Public Protector is an institution established to investigate purported or supposed indecorous behavior of state affairs, whereby upon the decision to investigate such, which is at the discretion of the Public Protector, the Public Protector must report on such conduct and if applicable the taking of appropriate remedial action must occur.[8]

The Public Protector may not investigate judicial decisions, as this is the function of the Judicial Services Commission as well as owing to the fact that the Public Protector acts as a check between the Executive and Legislature.[9] The Public Protector may also not investigate human rights issues as such issues fall within the jurisdiction of the South African Human Rights Commission.[10] Once the Public Protector has an affirmative finding of misconduct, such a finding is then referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.[11]

What follows is a determination of the ability of the Public Protector to accurately fulfill the role of its office. Such capability is determined by means of the independence which is afforded to it.

How independent is the Public Protector?

In order to hold the Executive and Legislative branches of government accountable, the Public Protector requires a “sufficient” amount of independence. This leads to predominant issues of what constitutes sufficient independence and the issue of over independence of such institutions which would then lead to an abuse of such independence.

Independence is a characteristic, which is established objectively in terms of whether a reasonable person would perceive such an institution as being independent.[12] Thus the impact that the Public Protectors perceived independence upon the reasonable person would in hindsight affect the Public Protector to fulfill the role of its office.

In order to accurately understand the independence which the Public Protector is afforded, its independence needs to be divided amongst five aspects namely a prima facie contradiction that exists between sections 181(2) and 181(5) of the Constitution, financial independence, administrative independence and finally, the independence of appointments and dismissals of the Public Protector.

Amid section 181(2) and 181(5) of the Constitution, there exists a prima facie conflict of these two provisions in the sense that section 181(2) holds Chapter 9 institutions to be independent and only subject to the Constitution whereas 181(5) holds such institutions accountable to the National Assembly.[13] This inconsistency was settled in Independent Electoral Commission v Langeberg Municipality [14] whereby the court held in accordance with section 239 such institutions are not governmental departments which the Cabinet may have stimulus over, rather they are independent from government.[15] Thus by holding such, the court made it clear that although the Public Protector is accountable to the National Assembly, it is not accountable to government nor is it afforded the same independence as the judiciary.[16] 

Two reasons exist at the outset for such accountability.[17] Firstly the Public Protector is said to be accountable to the National Assembly, as through representative democracy, the National Assembly represents the population of South Africa, their opinions and ideologies, and thus by making the Public Protector accountable to the National Assembly, it is in essence making the Public Protector accountable to the public.[18] 

Financial independence of the Public Protector was too dealt with in Independent Electoral Commission v Langeberg Municipality whereby the Constitutional Court affirmed such Chapter 9 institutions need a degree of financial independence but it is not to say that such institutions may set their own budget.[19] Rather Parliament as opposed to the Executive has the obligation to provide sufficiently reasonable funding in order for the Public Protector to fulfill its functions.

Appointments of the Public Protector are made by the President through a shortlisting of candidates, by the National Assembly, whom the Public nominated.[20] Therefore there exists a grave deficit in terms of public participation, as the public does not participate beyond the nominations stage.

It is too the National Assembly who may dismiss the Public Protector with a two-thirds majority vote. Such a majority is to ensure a simple majority does not unjustly dismiss the Public Protector.[21]

In theory, affording the Public Protector this amount of Constitutional independence at first glance, seems to allow it the ability to perform its functions. However, over the past couple of years, grave injustices have been committed towards this Chapter 9 institution that raises doubts as to whether the Public Protector can effectively fulfil its office, and whether the continued lack of the required independence renders the office of the Public Protector redundant.

The Constitution can be said to afford the Public Protector “sufficient” independence. However I posit that sufficient independence does not mean effective independence, and it is evident that the Public Protector as a chapter 9 institution is fundamental in the supporting of a democratic South Africa, representing a mechanism of holding the Executive and Legislature accountable, but such an office is not effective for as long as those whom the Public Protector seeks to hold accountable are the exact persons who have the power and ability to dismiss the Public Protector and furthermore have the ability to dictate the funding it therefore receives. With the recent cries for funding by the Public Protector, and the closing of its Mpumalanga office with others following suit, the question arises of whether the Public Protector has been reduced to a mere symbol of a ideology of democracy, unable to protect the public. Furthermore the manner in which the Nkandla Report was received in Parliament shows its inability to effectively exercise its powers and functions. Not being able to protect the public renders the Public Protector a useless feat.

I therefore posit that the theoretical independence afforded to the Public Protector is not enough to allow it to effectively fulfil its powers and duties.  Therefore all efforts must be made to afford the Public Protector such effective independence in order to fulfil its role and allow it to effectively protect the public.

………………………………………………………………………………………..

Footnotes

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[1] Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 section 181(1)(a).

[2] Pierre de Vos ‘Balancing Independence and Accountability: The Role of the Chapter 9 Institutions in South Africa’s Constitutional Democracy’ in M Danwood, M. Chirwa and Lia Nijzink ‘Accountable Government in Africa Chapter 10’ (2012) 160 at 160.

[3] Ibid; Iain Currie and Johan de Waal The New Constitutional & Administrative Law vol 1 (2013) 46 to 50.

[4] Public Protector v Mail and Guardian Ltd and Others 2011 (4) SA 422 (SCA) paras 5 & 6; C. Thornhill ‘Role of the Public Protector’ (2011) 2 Case Studies of Public Authority at 87.

[5] C, Murray ‘The Human Rights Commission et al: What is the Role of South Africa’s Chapter 9 Institutions?’ (2006) 2 PELJ 122 at 123 & 124; Ex Parte Chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly In Re: Certification of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 1996 (4) SA 744 (CC) certification case 1996 (4) SA 744 para 161.

[6] Op cit note 2.

[7] Op cit note 2; supra note 4 para 19.

[8] Supra note 4 para 20; Newspaper clip; Public Protector Act 23 of 1994 section 6(4).

[9] Supra note 1 section 182(3).

[10] C, Murray ‘The Human Rights Commission et al: What is the Role of South Africa’s Chapter 9 Institutions?’ (2006) 2 PELJ 122 at 130.

[11] Thus demonstrating such institutional relationships of the Public Protector with such constitutional institutions.

[12] Van Rooyen and Others v S & Others 2002 (8) BCLR 810 (CC) paras 16 to 18.

[13] Supra note 1.

[14] 2001 (9) BCLR 883 (CC) paras 28 to 29.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Op cit note 2.

[17] It is important to note these to be my own deductions.

[18] Public Protector Act 23 of 1994 section 8(2)(a) and (b).

[19] Supra note 14 para 29; Op cit note 2

[20] Supra note 14; op cit note 2 168 to 170.

[21] Supra note 1 section 193(1) to (6) and 194(1) to (3).

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CCOs say that with more investigations also comes (slightly) more money

deloittecompliance

In sync with greater enforcement: Firms’ compliance budgets grow

According to a recent survey, the budgets allocated to compliance have grown over the last year, including those of African participants in the study.  Consulting giant Deloitte has released its 2015 Compliance Trends report, the result of its survey in which 20 large corporations across Africa (out of 364 total qualified respondents) participated.

Below, we summarise some its key conclusions on…

The Role of the Chief Compliance Officer

Taken together, these statistics … suggest that most CCOs, especially those at larger corporations, now have an opportunity to participate in high-level discussions about corporate strategy, values, and culture.

The key items under the CCO’s responsibility were:

  1. compliance training,
  2. code of conduct, and
  3. whistleblower hotline.

Primerio director John Oxenham observes that, “unfortunately, the assessment of culture was perceived as the least important among the CCOs’ responsibilities.  This is a serious problem, as pointed out in prior articles emphasising the importance of a culture of compliance, rather than sterile top-down pronouncements that often go unheeded by mid-level management.”

African Companies

While firms from the continent have increased their compliance budgets (about 16% by 10 to 19%, and many more by 1 to 9% over the past year) along with their U.S. and European counterparts, they are perceived to be dilatory in their evaluation of their own compliance efforts and results, and lacking in their ability to make full use of their compliance efforts.  In short, many still (wrongly) view dollars spent compliance as a “grudge cost.”

Significant enforcement in Africa (both in the anti-corruption and competition-law domains) across various sectors of the economy (food, technology, construction, to name a few) have awakened many corporate boardrooms across Africa to the reality of effective home-grown government enforcement.

Information Technology and Compliance

IT Systems have not fared well in the latest report:

One possible disconnect emerges when asking CCOs about the IT systems they use to fulfill their missions: Most are not terribly confident in their IT systems’ ability to do the job. Only 32 percent of respondents were confident or very confident in their IT systems, down from 41 percent in 2014

Interestingly, smaller organisations with less than $5 billion in annual revenues showed higher levels of confidence in their IT systems when juxtaposed to their larger peers.

Infrastructure projects, competition & regulation: Tafotie on regional oversight

Africa-infrastructure

The necessity of strong regional regulatory oversight on infrastructure projects in Africa

RogerBy Roger Tafotie

Dr. Tafotie is a Pr1merio advisor with a legal & business focus on both African and European markets.  A member of the Luxembourg Bar, he is also a lecturer in law at the University of Luxembourg. His focus areas include project finance/public private partnerships, banking & finance, and corporate law.

In his latest paper on essential infrastructure development on the African continent, Roger not only embarks on a mission to clarify the valuable role of public-private partnerships (“PPPs”) — he also reminds us that, beyond “well-drafted projects contracts,” there must also be an “effective and efficient African regional regulatory oversight system, with clear roles and lines of command, that is able to protect against ills such as self-dealings and anti-competitive alliances or monopolies,” including “the monitoring of the tendering process against corruption.”

Enhanced competition and an effective oversight system to weed out corruption in the bidding (and execution) process not only protects the local, national or regional governmental issuer of the infrastructure PPP.  In order to keep all stakeholders, including global financing institutions or other private lenders, in a position of “acceptable risk,” a well-supervised competitive process is essential to tender selection and project execution.

You can find the full paper here, exclusively on AAT and on AAF.

Investment in Africa: Changing landscape, new hurdles

Questioning African antitrust growth prospects: Slowdown in economic investment (both organic and outside investment) may affect functioning of competition law on the continent

Recent developments in Africa have many scratching their heads and wondering whether the formerly wondrous economic-growth engine of the vastly resource-rich and otherwise economically still undervalued continent will soon experience a slowdown, if not come to a halt altogether.

For one, in April 2014, Nigeria surpassed South Africa as the continent’s largest economy (see Economist Apr. 12, 2014: “Africa’s New Number One“).  This is a significant milestone for the former, and a setback for the latter — an economy that was 8 times the size of the Nigerian economy only 20 years ago, yet is now suffering from stagnating GDP, reeling from corruption allegations amongst its current leadership, undergoing a closely-watched presidential election process, and whose ruling ANC party is facing a heretofore unprecedented backlash and torrent of criticism.

Source: The Economist

Not only South Africa has weakened, politically and economically, however.  Events such as the Northern Nigerian wave of violence – with sectarian Boko Haram forcefully displaying the impotence of the central Nigerian government of a weakened president Goodluck Jonathan – fuel the fire of outside investors’ mistrust of African stability and their concomitant reluctance to make good on prior investment promises.  As The Economist notes in the article quoted above: “it is not a place for the faint-hearted” to invest, even though it highlights the successful Nigerian business ventures of outsiders such as Shoprite, SABMiller, and Nestlé.  Bloomberg BusinessWeek quotes Thabo Dloti, chief executive officer of South Africa’s fourth-largest insurer Liberty Holdings Ltd. (LBH), as saying: “It does slow down the plans that we have, it does put out the projections that we have by a year or two.”

http://www.stanlib.com/EconomicFocus/Pages/InterestingChart112SouthAfricaneconomyvsNigerianeconomy.aspx

Nigerian vs. RSA GDP
Source: http://www.stanlib.com

Likewise, multi-national organisations such as COMESA and its competition enforcement body, are undergoing significant changes (such as, currently, an opaque process of raising the heretofore insufficient merger-filing thresholds), shockingly successful web attacks on their data, and a resulting dearth of transactions being notified.  Elsewhere in developing economies, recent political turmoil has likewise led observes to comment on the negative spillover effect from political & social spheres into the economy (e.g., Financial Times, May 8, 2014: “Political crisis further dents prospects for Thai economy“).

Impact on antitrust practice

The upshot for competition-law practitioners and enforcers alike is rather straightforward, AAT predicts: more hesitation around African deals being done means fewer notifications, less enforcement, and overall lower billings for firms.

The flip side of the coin – as is usually the case in the economic sine curve of growth and slowdowns – is the commonly-observed inverse relationship of M&A and criminal antitrust: while we may see fewer transactions in the short term, the incidence of cartel behaviour and commercial bribery & government-contract fraud cases will likely increase.

Emerging markets & anti-corruption / anti-fraud issues

ICC FraudNet Spring 2014 conference

AAT editor John Oxenham of Nortons Inc. is an invited speaker on current trends in African anti-corruption and anti-fraud enforcement.  See more details on the conference and FraudNet here.

The emerging overlap of antitrust and anti-corruption issues – including significant efficiencies from combining preemptive internal audits as well as corporate compliance programmes in these two respects – presents a natural synergy for legal departments, allowing them to economise outside-counsel spend whilst at the same time enhance the rigour and comprehensiveness of their compliance and audit programmes.

Please contact the authors for more information on the services we can provide in Africa, the U.S., in Europe and Asia.

John Oxenham, editor