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South African lawmakers to discuss fitness for office of anti-graft watchdog

South African lawmakers to discuss fitness for office of anti-graft watchdog
FILE PHOTO: Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane listens during a briefing in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, October 19, 2016. Picture taken October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings -
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Mike Hutchings(Reuters)
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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A South African parliamentary committee will discuss a request to look into the fitness to hold office of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane after a recess period, most likely in early September, the committee said on Wednesday.

Calls for the removal of anti-corruption watchdog Mkhwebane have gained momentum after the country’s top court ruled last week that her investigation methods were flawed and that she had been dishonest during litigation.

Mkhwebane, appointed for a seven-year term in 2016, has also drawn criticism for investigations into President Cyril Ramaphosa and his close ally, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, that legal experts say contain errors.

It could take a drawn-out parliamentary process to remove Mkhwebane from office.

Bulelani Magwanishe, chair of parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, said the committee had provisionally set down a meeting for Sept. 3 to discuss whether Mkhwebane was fit for her role.

“It is only after that the committee would be able to comment further,” Magwanishe said in a statement.

By targeting Ramaphosa and Gordhan, the president’s supporters say Mkhwebane is acting as a proxy for a faction in the governing African National Congress (ANC) party which is aligned with former president Jacob Zuma and opposes Ramaphosa’s agenda.

But Mkhwebane denies playing politics and says she is simply holding senior officials to account.

The public protector has authority enshrined in the constitution to investigate alleged wrongdoing by public officials and demand remedial action.

Because Ramaphosa and others are bound to comply, the consequences of her investigations can be far-reaching.

One danger, analysts say, is that Mkhwebane will tie up Ramaphosa and his allies with questionable investigations that could take them months to fight in the courts and distract them from tackling the country’s economic woes.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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