The Constitutional Court has dismissed Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s appeal against a high court judgment which ordered that she personally pay 15 percent of the costs from her own pocket in a case involving the South African Reserve Bank.
This means Mkhwebane is liable for an estimated R900‚000.
The court also granted the SA Reserve Bank application that she be found to have abused her office.
The majority of the court said there was no sound basis for it to interfere with the high court’s discretion to grant punitive cost orders. The court held that punitive cost orders were granted when public officials fell egregiously short of what was required of them as public officials. The court said such cost orders were not ordered against public officials who acted appropriately.
However‚ a minority judgment written by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng‚ said he would have granted Mkhwebane’s application for leave to appeal.
The judgment by the Constitutional Court follows Mkhwebane’s appeal against a 2018 high court judgment that set aside the remedial action contained in her 2017 Absa-Bankorp report‚ which found that Absa should repay R1.1bn to the Reserve Bank.
The Public Protector’s remedial actions also directed Parliament to amend the Constitution in order to change the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank.
In the 2018 judgment‚ Mkhwebane was also ordered to personally pay 15% of the costs of the application by the Reserve Bank‚ on an attorney and client scale‚ including the costs of three counsel.
The high court held that there was a reasonable apprehension that the Public Protector was biased in her investigation and that she did not fully understand her constitutional duty to be impartial and to perform her functions without fear‚ favour or prejudice.
PP @AdvBMkhwebane is already in the courtroom. The @ConCourtSA will shortly hand down judgment on whether should be held personally liable for a portion of the legal costs that the SA Reserve Bank incurred in a High Court case involving the #CIEX matter. pic.twitter.com/FEz1Jp1qs3
— Public Protector SA (@PublicProtector) July 22, 2019
An application for leave to appeal was refused by the high court. The application suffered a similar fate at the Supreme Court of Appeal.
In her application before the Constitutional Court heard in November 2018‚ Mkhwebane said the procedure followed in the high court‚ seeking a costs order against her‚ was flawed and thus it should not have been granted.
She said the public protector was similar to a judge and was similarly indemnified from costs in her personal capacity for action taken in her official role.
The reserve bank opposed Mkhwebane’s application.
Mkhwebane has meanwhile threatened to go to court‚ should parliament try to remove her from office.
The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that she had written to National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise‚ effectively telling her to back off should it continue to probe her fitness to hold office.
Source: TMG Digital.