Restoring image of office of the public protector is priority for applicants

Restoring the image of the public protector’s office and staff morale are priorities of candidates interviewed on Wednesday for the position of public protector.

Advocates Tseliso Thipanyane, Kwena Ntsewa, Oliver Josie and Lynn Marais were grilled by MPs who sit in the ad hoc committee tasked with finding the country’s next public protector. Four more candidates, Muvhango Lukhaimane, magistrate Johanna Ledwaba, Prof Boitumelo Mmusinyane and deputy public protector Kholeka Gcaleka will be interviewed on Thursday.

The successful candidate will succeed Busisiwe Mkhwebane, whose seven-year term ends on October 14. Mkhwebane is the subject of a section 194 parliamentary inquiry into her fitness to hold office which is recommending that the National Assembly remove her for incompetence and misconduct.

He started a bit shaky – probably due to nerves, and cited Sun Tzu’s leadership principles as the qualities he brings to the job.

They are intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, discipline and courage – but Thipanyane could not remember the fifth principle, courage. He told MPs to laughter in the room: “I have a 10-point plan, but I can’t remember what the points are.”

Thipanyane believes his track record in public service will stand him in good stead. He is now working in the office of the chief justice as head of legal.

He is a member of the SABC board.

“You cannot fly a plane just by having theoretical knowledge, you have to have a track record. I think we need people with proven track records and proven leadership abilities to be able to fly this plane.”

“The public protector is important, and I am looking forward to helping restore the dignity of the organisation in order to serve the people of this country,” he said.

I think I’ve been tested. I’ve made mistakes; clean audits, bad audits, staff issues, I have mastered that. I think I am a person whom the people of this country can find confidence in

Advocate Tseliso Thipanyane

Thipanyane wants to become “the best public protector ever”.

To do this: “You have to have a vision and that vision can be informed to a large extent by experience. And I have been in this field since 1996.

“I think I’ve been tested. I’ve made mistakes; clean audits, bad audits, staff issues, I have mastered that. I think I am a person whom the people of this country can find confidence in.”

For advocate Kwena Thomas Ntsewa, MPs had more questions on whether he could remain non-partisan considering his background in the anti-apartheid struggle and in the ANC. Ntsewa became a political activist at a young age and was detained in the 1980s. He was a member of the ANC Youth League and the ANC-aligned SA Students’ Congress.

Much later in life, he worked as a special legal and policy adviser to the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs [2011–2014] and was chief director in the office of the Limpopo premier between 1997 and 2005.

An advocate for 27 years, he swatted away those questions.

On his links with the ANC, he said: “I got involved at 15 and found myself detained under the state of emergency. That history I am very proud of, and I cherish it because I had to be there.”

He said his fight was for a fair society in which everyone had a right to participate.

Pressed by IFP MP Inkosi Mzamo Buthelezi to cite an example of where he pushed back against political interference, he spoke about a time when he was the national chair of the SA geographical names council, and they were dealing with a proposal to rename Tzaneen.

A Limpopo MEC pre-empted the process and announced that Tzaneen would be named after ANC anti-apartheid activist Mark Shope.

“As chair of the committee at the time based in Limpopo and close to the MEC, I expressed my view and said ‘you are preempting the processes’ and indeed when communities met, they reaffirmed the name Tzaneen.

“I impressed upon him that it was important to follow processes no matter where you are in the hierarchy.

Despite his rich CV, Ntsewa has no experience in investigations besides training he received in the police for detective work.

No such issues for advocate Oliver Josie, a former Scorpions investigator who is a forensic investigator with more than 30 years’ experience.

He is now the nonexecutive chair of the audit and risk committee at the department of water and sanitation. He has worked for both the Competition Commission and the Competition Tribunal.

For Josie, strong leadership is essential for the Chapter 9 institution.

“You need a strong leader given where the office of the public protector is at the moment,” he said.

“[You need] somebody who understands the country, who has experience in public service and understands how government departments work. Like myself, I worked in government departments for many years, and it must be somebody who understands the law and alternate-dispute resolutions.”

According to Josie, one of the big issues with the public protector is (insufficient) funding. To address this, he believes the office should accept donations although in a regulated process.

“They said 34% of their posts are unfunded; they can’t fill the posts because they are not funded. The office cannot be effective, you can’t extend the footprint if you don’t have people.

“For me donations might be a useful way to bolster the funding, but there must be conditions around donations, as there are in political party funding.”

The fourth candidate to be interviewed on Wednesday was Lynn Marais, a practising advocate with more than 20 years’ experience in the legal fraternity and with extensive managerial experience.

She has previously acted as a magistrate and during those stints she ensured access to justice and effective and efficient functioning of the court, she said.

“I’m confident that my experience, combined with my education, investigative, communication, analytical and sound decision-making skills, together with my ability to thrive under pressure makes me a suitable candidate.”

Her priority if appointed would be to “deal with staff morale” . This would ensure everybody was on the same page and would enable the office to move forward.

High on her list would be tackling any case backlogs and looking at what could be done with available resources.