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Mkhwebane could be made to repay R2.1m for her accommodation, parliament hears

More storm clouds are gathering for former public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File image.
More storm clouds are gathering for former public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File image.
Image: Tebogo Letsie

Impeached public protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane could be made to pay back at least R2.1m paid for her stay at an estate in Pretoria.

The public protector's office (PPSA) told parliament on Friday it was seeking clarity from the National Treasury on whether Mkhwebane should be made to repay this and other costs the office paid for her benefit.

Parliament’s justice portfolio committee heard the PPSA was collating invoices from 2016 when Mkhwebane took office to check all the payments made.

They believe the costs the office irregularly paid include those for Mkhwebane’s defamation case against the DA when the party accused her of being a spy and some of the personal cost orders granted against her by the courts.

“In line with the principle of recovering from anybody who commits fruitless expenditure, Treasury will guide us and I am sure they will give us a go-ahead to recover and then we will start a process of recovering,” said PPSA CEO Thandi Sibanyoni.

“Remember there were cost orders, personal costs that were given to the [former] public protector. At some point we got a sense that some could have been paid by the PPSA, so we wanted to do all the calculations of every amount that could have been paid but shouldn’t have been paid by the institution from 2016 to date,” she added.

The PPSA accrued R2.1m in fruitless and wasteful expenditure according to its 2022/23 annual financial statements which it said was related to the payment of secure accommodation for Mkhwebane in respect of the current [2022/23] and previous financial years.

Sibanyoni said the PPSA has done the calculations but the applicable irregular and fruitless expenditure framework issued by the Treasury only applied to employees, and not to the executive authority.

That is why they decided to do the calculations that need to be recovered and make a full presentation to the Treasury to get guidance.

On accommodation, Sibanyoni said the PPSA was paying Mkhwebane's rental directly to the department of public works and infrastructure.

“On legal fees we have to go through all the legal invoices and pick up those we shouldn’t have paid as the public protector.

“Case in point is a matter of the Public Protector vs DA which is a defamation of character matter. We understand that the institution paid for that, and we believe we shouldn’t pay for that as an institution. The institution was not the one that was defamed, it was an individual and we believe that we shouldn’t have paid because the matter happened before [Mkhwebane] assumed office.”

According to Sibanyoni, Mkhwebane moved to a secure estate in 2018/19, at the office's expense.

After her suspension in May 2022, the office discovered there was an attempt by the then chief of staff to advise her that the state should not be paying for her accommodation.

Subsequently, they found a letter by the then minister of public works to Mkhwebane saying she needed to sign a stop order towards the payment of rental.

But this information was concealed from the institution, said Sibanyoni.



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