Public protector welcomes arms deal enquiry

Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela has welcomed Pres Jacob Zuma’s recent decision to appoint a commission of enquiry into the government’s controversial arms deal, calling corruption “a crime against the poor”.

Adv Thuli Madonsela

Advocate Thuli Madonsela. She called corruption a "crime against the poor". Picture: STEFAN ELS

“It’s a good idea, especially in light of the new evidence that has emerged in Germany and the United Kingdom,” she said last night (29 September 2011) at Stellenbosch University (SU), where she delivered the law faculty’s annual human rights lecture.

“If it is found that there was fraud, claims can be instituted. But even if we don’t recover the money, there are many lessons to be learnt – about good governance, the management of large state contracts to prevent corruption, and how to limit escalating costs,” she said during question time.

“There is a tension between corruption and human rights, because human rights requires fair play, for example, in the award of contracts. So, already by being corrupt you have violated human rights. But more importantly … corruption is a crime against the poor.”

Adv Madonsela said the new constitution that South Africa got in 1996 affords everyone an equal right to human dignity, freedom and having such basic needs as housing and health care met, “but if you have no means to vindicate your right, they are meaningless.”

This is where the office of the public protector fits in – it is one of a number of institutions enshrined in the constitution to protect human rights and strengthen democracy, she explained.

“Our role is to ensure good administration by investigating and rooting out improper conduct or maladministration in the management of state affairs. We must ensure accountability.”

The public protector’s powers go beyond making recommendations, she said. “The constitution empowers us to take appropriate remedial action.”

She mentioned examples of how the public protector intervened to shield members of the public against the abuse of power by government departments. “It is expensive and complicated to go to court. The public protector is there to help David take on Goliath.”

Prof Sandy Liebenberg, Adv Thuli Madonsela, Prof Arnold van Zyl and Prof Gerhard Lubbe

Prof Sandy Liebenberg, Adv Thuli Madonsela, Prof Arnold van Zyl and Prof Gerhard Lubbe. Picture: HENNIE RUDMAN

Adv Madonsela said the public protector is under resourced and short staffed. “We are a small team. Only 256 of our approved posts are currently filled. Our budget is R140 million, which is too small to everything we have to do. We did ask the treasury for more money but are still waiting for an answer.”

Prof Gerhard Lubbe, Dean of Law, said South Africa’s success as a democracy depends on the wisdom and integrity of those heading institutions established to protect the constitution.

Prof Sandy Liebenberg, occupant of the HF Oppenheimer Chair in Human Rights Law at SU, said that with her investigations into alleged tender fraud and the squandering of resources by ministers Adv Madonsela has shown that she is up to her task. – DESMOND THOMPSON

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