South Africa

PUBLIC PROTECTOR IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY

Fugitive lawyer scored R30,000 from Mkhwebane’s office to pen two articles critical of Cabinet ministers

Fugitive lawyer scored R30,000 from Mkhwebane’s office to pen two articles critical of Cabinet ministers
Suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Maverick / Leila Dougan)

Public Protector legal services manager Muntu Sithole signed off on an R87,000 invoice for US fugitive from justice Paul Ngobeni, which included R30,000 for two poison-pen articles critical of Cabinet ministers.

Muntu Sithole on Thursday told the Section 194 inquiry into the suspended Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office that “articles” criticising then finance minister Tito Mboweni and state security minister Dipuo Letsatsi Duba had been part of Paul Ngobeni’s R87,000 package.

While he maintained that in his view, Ngobeni had provided a “legal opinion” to the PP, two articles — one which appeared on a little-known web platform africanews24-7.co.za. — had been “a value add”.

“It was not in terms of money, but in terms of extra service over and above the principal service,” Sithole told the committee.

Sithole did, however, later acknowledge that Ngobeni should have invoiced separately for the “communications” work he provided for Mkhwebane.

“But I must not be difficult to the extent that it should have come separately and we should not have processed it. I agree. That sits at my door. I signed it off,” he admitted.

Ngobeni was CR 17 probe ‘adviser’

The committee heard earlier that Mkhwebane had appointed Ngobeni — disbarred in the US — as an adviser. Evidence was that he had been paid R96,000 to provide a legal opinion to Mkhwebane for her investigation of the “CR17” campaign.

On Thursday, the committee heard that the PP’s legal bills totalled R158-million in “consulting and professional fees”, R147-million of which was splurged on “legal fees” alone.

Sithole acknowledged on Thursday that no background checks on Ngobeni had been done prior to his appointment, and that Ngobeni had briefed Mkhwebane’s personal legal representative, Seanego Attorneys. This would have been on the instruction of the PP.


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Asked by ANC MP Dipuo Peters whether Seanego handled the bulk of the cases litigated by Mkhwebane, Sithole said the firm rather received “high-profile” cases, creating this impression.

Invoices flighted during the hearing on Thursday showed that Ngobeni had billed the PP’s office R2,000 an hour and clocked 17 hours conducting research, writing articles and providing legal opinions.

The committee heard also that it was Ngobeni, ironically, who had first conjured up the possibility of Mkhwebane suing government over the “inadequate” funding of her office. This advice had been passed on to the PP by her “special adviser”, the late conveyancing attorney Sibusiso Nyembe.

Nyembe, in an email to Mkhwebane and flighted by evidence leader Advocate Nazreen Bawa earlier, read: “I propose we consider immediately instituting a court action alleging that the government is unconstitutional by its failure to sufficiently fund the PPSA. I must here admit that this idea was first mooted by adv. Ngobeni, therefore please never think I am a brilliant chap.”

Nyembe had been brought in by Mkhwebane to assist her with her Supreme Court of Appeal petition against a court order to pay 15% of the costs to the South African Reserve Bank in the Bankorp/CIEX matter.

‘Legal input’

The committee also learnt that Ngobeni was paid R46,625 for providing “legal input” towards a submission by the Office of the Public Protector to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services.

ANC MP Bheki Nkosi asked Sithole whether it had been common practice to consult externally on these matters, to which he replied that this had been the first occasion. This was done because a “legal opinion” had been required.

The inquiry previously heard that the PP forked out about R152,000 for the submission made to the committee. 

Ngobeni, in his invoices, broke down his 36 hours for research in general, the research of case law and the rules of the National Assembly, the drafting of responses for Mkhwebane, as well as supervising the PP’s correspondence.

Covering his tracks, Sithole informed the committee that Ngobeni had already been providing services to Mkhwebane prior to his [Sithole’s] appointment as legal manager, and thus he did not think to conduct “due diligence”. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Chris 123 says:

    How much longer must this go on? How much more evidence do you need to prove she is Fraser’s/Zuma’s puppet. With all these people, they think they are working with Monopoly money.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Enough already! There is absolutely no need to examine any evidence further. It’s all out there in the public domain. The woman is just another example of disastrous appointments by the ANC. What else is there to see? Just get rid of her and her expensive needs…….

  • Patrick O'Shea says:

    So much for impartiality.

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