Source: Office of the Public Protector
It is okay for members of the public to take government to court if they believe that the public protector's remedial action should be implemented, Advocate Thuli Madonsela said last Thursday.
She was taking part in a series of public conversations taking place last week on the sidelines of the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival in Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape. The conversations, moderated by Kyknet presenter Freek Robinson, cover wide-ranging topical issues, including the work of the public protector, energy matters and fracking.
Fielding questions from Robinson and members of the public, Madonsela said the public were the ultimate guardians of the Constitution, who could get findings implemented through, among other avenues, the courts.
She clarified several other issues, including her office's appeal of the Western Cape High Court judgement on the binding effect of her findings and remedial action, the implementation of her Secure in Comfort report and the under-resourcing of her office.
Regarding the judgment, the public protector explained that, while her office respects the judiciary and Judge Ashton Shippers, it did not agree with the high court’s verdict. Her office was awaiting the court's decision after filing a notice for leave to appeal the judgement last November.
She told the session that a bulk of the remedial action in her report Secure in Comfort had been implemented by the departments of public works and defence – but action on the part of the police and presidency were outstanding.
Madonsela also clarified that the minister of police was only required to help determine the amount to be paid back by the president for non-security items, not to decide whether or not any money should be paid back at all.
"The minister of police can't determine whether the president must pay. That determination has already been made by the public protector," she said.
Regarding the funding of her office, Madonsela explained that the additional R60-million announced by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene during his budget vote speech in February was spread over three years. Only a quarter of that amount has been allocated for the current financial year.
"We are nowhere near [being] able to handle half the cases we have due to underfunding," she said. "We are however grateful to the minister of finances for the additional funding even though it’s a drop in the ocean."
While dismissing suggestions that government was deliberately underfunding her office, Madonsela said the backtracking by authorities from plans to double her staff was confusing. She was referring to the approval – by Parliament in 2009 – of her office's organogram, which provided for nearly double her current staff of just over 300.