No evidence Pravin Gordhan used his position to irregularly appoint chief of staff — public protector

Report also clears public enterprises department of irregularity in appointment of Abacus Financial Crime Advisory to look into leaks

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan. File photo.
Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan. File photo.
Image: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Acting public protector Kholeka Gcaleka has cleared public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan of wrongdoing in the appointment of his chief of staff Nthabiseng Borotho.

“The public protector could not find evidence indicating the minister used his position or information entrusted to him to irregularly appoint Borotho.”

The EFF's Floyd Shivambu lodged a complaint in November 2020 asking the public protector to look into a series of questions, including who was appointed to the selection committee and who was its chair.

The public protector's report said, based on the analysis of the complaint, what was identified as the issue to “inform and focus the investigation” was whether the minister “acted in a manner inconsistent with his position, in violation of clause 2.3(c) of the [executive] code [of ethics]” when he appointed Borotho. 

Gordhan told the public protector he had communicated with former public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu in 2019, saying he would prefer to appoint Borotho as his chief of staff though she did not have a tertiary degree and therefore did not meet the minimum formal requirements for the post.

She did, however, comply with the other formal requirements as she had the required experience and had acted as chief of staff since 2018.

He asked Mchunu to grant permission to deviate from the qualification requirement as the appointment would provide continuity and enhance service delivery.

Gordhan said after he responded to a further request from Mchunu to provide him with “justifiable circumstances”, the deviation was granted.

Mchunu had confirmed this and said the appointment was a result of “exceptional circumstances given the experience, understanding of the ministerial portfolio and networking skills of Borotho”.  

The public protector’s investigation team verified this information with then chairperson of the Public Service Commission (PSC) Richard Sizani. “The PSC provided a copy of its report that confirmed the regularity of Borotho’s appointment.”

Based on the evidence, there was “no record in the public protector’s possession that indicates that the minister acted irregularly”. Gordhan had therefore not breached the constitution or the executive code of ethics.

The report also cleared the department of irregularity when it appointed Abacus Financial Crime Advisory to investigate public servants suspected of leaking information about the appointment of Borotho. 

The appointment was “in compliance with the constitution, preferential procurement policy and broad-based black economic empowerment legislative framework”, said Gcaleka at the press briefing when she presented the report. There was no improper conduct or maladministration.

In August last year the Sunday Times reported suspended public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane subpoenaed Gordhan's bank accounts as part of the investigation into Abacus.

The Sunday Times reliably learnt that Mkhwebane wrote to several banks demanding all documentation relating to the accounts of Gordhan, his director-general Kgathatso Tlhakudi, Abacus Financial Crime Advisory's managing partner Mohammed Cassim and those of the company from April 2020 to April 2021.

In the report released on Friday, a reference is made in the section on “Key sources of Information” to “Subpoenas for financial records to major banks and response thereto”. However, there is no further mention of bank records and no apparent reliance on them in the report. 



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