PUBLIC PROTECTOR IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY
Evidence indicates Mkhwebane’s office a virtual ‘branch’ of State Security Agency, remarks committee
Active participation of SSA and its former Director-General Arthur Fraser in the affairs of suspended Public Protector office continues to be exposed in startling detail at Parliament's Section 194 Inquiry impeachment inquiry.
Testifying on Wednesday, Gumbi Tyelela, acting head of Corporate Services in the Office of the Public Protector, set out the web of ties with the SSA, including that the SSA’s CFO had been seconded from the agency. The SSA also vetted all PPSA staff, he confirmed.
The secondment of the as yet unnamed SSA CFO to the Public Protector’s office occurred as Mkhwebane was working on a series of urgent investigations and reports including the Absa/CIEX attempt at altering the mandate of the Reserve Bank.
By then the Reserve Bank had also fined then-president Jacob Zuma’s business partners and friends, the Gupta family’s bank, Bank of Baroda, for a variety of transgressions. All four of the country’s banks had also turned off the taps.
The 194 Inquiry, now in its sixth week, has heard testimony from several former and current officials of the casual and omnipresent SSA marinade in which Mkhwebane doused her office.
The committee also heard that an SSA official had in fact sat in on a panel interviewing candidates for the position of head of security at the PPSA which eventually went to Baldwin Neshunzhi.
On Wednesday, committee members remarked that evidence provided by Tyelela as well as other witnesses seemed to suggest that the Office of the Public Protector had become a “branch” of the SSA.
Tyelela responded that Mkhwebane’s office indeed had had “close ties” with Fraser’s SSA but he would not say that it had become a fully-fledged “branch”.
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So far, Advocate Dali Mpofu, representing Mkhwebane, has labelled almost every single witness as “disgruntled” or “seeking revenge”. Mpofu has also claimed that the evidence given by these officials is “irrelevant”.
Neshunzhi testified to the committee earlier that Mkhwebane had asked him to be her “eyes and ears” after his appointment and that she had assumed he had been “seconded” from the SSA.
The security expert, a stickler for detail, was later placed on “garden leave” for doing his job.
It was his involvement in attempting to obtain top-level security clearance for CEO Vussy Mahlangu that exposed him to the wrath of Mkhwebane.
As a result, the Public Protector had wanted Neshunzhi out, and had written to Fraser requesting him to “recall” Neshunzhi for training.
But there was no “recalling” to be done as Neshunzhi had never been trained by the SSA. Mkhwebane had simply assumed he had been “seconded”.
Neshunzhi was later accused by the PP of leaking documents that had been delivered from the President’s office to her office when in fact the President’s office had made a media announcement about this, the committee heard.
It was Fraser who in 2019, Neshunzhi had told the committee, after having left the SSA for Correctional Services, who had called him to express the PP’s “displeasure” at his conduct.
Responding to committee chair, Qubudile Dyantyi’s request for the witness to set out the securitisation of the office under Mkhwebane, Tyelela responded that it now had a “stand-alone” security unit with a senior manager.
“We were working with officials from the SSA. Security functions were elevated under her [Mkhwebane],” said Tyelele.
On Thursday, Lufuno Ndou, who has worked at the PPSA in various capacities began giving evidence. He ended up as executive manager of the Provincial Investigations and Integration branch, where he had oversight over nine offices, including the Free State.
Ndou resigned in 2018.
The hearing continues. DM