South Africa’s Gordhan Wins First Round in Battle Against Ombudsman Action
(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan won the first round of his battle with the nation’s anti-graft ombudsman when the High Court suspended her directive that he be censured.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane ruled on July 7 that Gordhan misled parliament, violated the executive ethics code and oversaw an illegal intelligence unit at the national tax agency when he was finance minister, and ordered President Cyril Ramaphosa to discipline him. While Gordhan appealed the findings in court, Mkhwebane said that didn’t suspend the remedial action -- an argument Judge Sulet Potterill dismissed.
Some of the disciplinary measures ordered by Mkhwebane were “vague, contradictory or nonsensical,” and would cause Gordhan irreparable harm if implemented, Potterill said at a hearing in Pretoria, the capital, on Monday. “There is no harm to the Public Protector if the remedial action is suspended pending review” and it “defies all logic” that it should be implemented now, she said.
The ruling is the latest blow to Mkhwebane, who has had several of her findings overturned by the courts, been found by the Constitutional Court to have lied under oath and been accused of siding with Ramaphosa’s opponents in a power struggle within the ruling party. The case will also serve to strengthen Ramaphosa, who is himself contesting her findings that he intentionally misled lawmakers about a campaign donation.
Mkhwebane denies that she is playing politics and accuses her critics of seeking to undermine her investigations.
Potterill ordered that the Public Protector’s office and the Economic Freedom Fighters, an opposition party that joined the lawsuit against Gordhan, pay the legal costs.
Mkhwebane disagreed with the judgment and would study it before deciding on a way forward, her acting spokesman Oupa Segalwe said.
The EFF said in a statement on the party’s Twitter account that it will appeal the ruling.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance has asked parliament to probe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office and the legislature’s justice committee will decide whether an inquiry is necessary. Firing the public protector requires the backing of two-thirds of lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether that threshold could be reached given deep divisions within the ruling party, which holds 230 of the 400 seats in parliament.
Mkhwebane won’t quit despite the adverse court rulings against her and would present her side of the story if parliament decided to take action against her, Segalwe said.
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