Response by Premier Winde to the Public Protector’s findings
Last week, the Public Protector submitted her report on her investigation into allegations that Minister Anton Bredell had breached the Executive Ethics code.
I have taken some time to study the report in which the Public Protector has determined that the appropriate remedial action is the submission of her report, with any comments I may wish to make thereon, to the Western Cape Provincial Legislature by no later than 5 February 2021, along with a report on any action taken or to be taken by me in this regard.
Before I set out my decision, it is important to note some of the more important facts in this matter and some concerns that I do have with the basis of the Public Protector’s report.
Firstly, the Executive Ethics Act indicates that the code of ethics and the rules and standards it sets out are aimed at promoting an open, democratic and accountable government and with which Cabinet members, Deputy Ministers and MECs must comply in performing their official responsibilities.
The letter written by Minister Bredell, was written on a DA letterhead, and in his capacity as Provincial Chairperson of the Democratic Alliance and not as member of the executive.
In prior correspondence in this matter however, the Public Protector indicated that in her view the code applies to all members of the executive “... irrespective of the capacity in which they perform their actions” even going so far as to suggest that when such a person is voting at an elective conference of his or her political party, he or she may still be regarded as acting as a member of the Executive in so doing.
Clearly given the role that all politicians holding public office play in our constitutional democracy, by taking this view the Public Protector has assumed for her office an investigatory role as regards every action of every high ranking politician who holds executive office; and the legal correctness and practical application of this view, as now expressed by the Public Protector, will be the subject of further consideration, legal advice and debate by the Western Cape Executive collectively, given its ramifications.
I must be clear that the Public Protector did not find that the breach resulted in any personal benefit to Minister Bredell, nor was there any aspect of financial or criminal impropriety.
Moreover, despite ANC MPP Cameron Dugmore’s sensationalistic and misleading reporting of the content of the report, there has been absolutely no finding of any racism, nor racist intent in Minister Bredell’s actions. The ANC should apologise for this blatant lie.
I must also note that this complaint relates to a letter written almost two years ago and that it took almost a full year for Mr Dugmore to file the complaint and then another year for the Public Protector’s office to investigate and finalise this report, even though the Public Protector’s Act stipulates that investigations should be completed within a period of 30 days.
It was only when Mr Dugmore made public comments about the lack of attendance to the matter by the Western Cape Public Protector’s office, that it was taken up by the national office. In her first letter to my office in July 2020, the Public Protector cites the reason for the delay as the Covid-19 pandemic. Given that the complaint was first lodged on 19 February 2020, before South Africa had even registered its first official case of Covid-19, this simply cannot be true.
The true reason for this delay would appear to be that the complaint, nearly two years old at the time, was not deemed to be deserving of the urgent application of the well-publicized stretched resources within the office of the Public Protector, until Mr Dugmore made it clear that he now wanted the investigation dealt with urgently. The motivation for doing so is, I think, clear.
On the basis of her understanding of the wide application of the Executive Code, as mentioned above, the Public Protector has found that the letter in question breached the Code. Given that there is currently no legal impediment to my compliance with the remedial action in the report, I intend to comply with the recommendations as required by the Public Protector and the Executive Members Ethics Act itself. Of course, this does not preclude the future judicial scrutiny of the report and its content at any time in the near future, for the very fact that it does not only affect our executive members, but every MEC and national minister in the country.
After detailed consideration I have taken the decision to issue a formal reprimand to the Minister for his breach of the Executive Members Code, as determined by the Public Protector in her report, by virtue of his being the author of the letter written in 2018, on a DA letterhead to his DA colleagues in the George Municipal Council Caucus.
In taking this decision, I have weighed up the Public Protector’s findings, Minister Bredell’s submissions to the Public Protector and the need for proportionality and reasonableness with reference to, inter alia, the external effect of the breach as well as any prior precedent on which to rely at other spheres of government.
In this regard I find it noteworthy to point out that notwithstanding various reprimands by, among others, Parliament and President Ramaphosa of various ANC executive members of his cabinet recently, none of the transgressions in question were investigated as breaches of applicable Ethics Codes by the office of the Public Protector albeit that I understand she has the power to do so mero moto.
The answer why of course may also be that members of the National Parliament are similarly also unaware of the view taken by the Public Protector as to the extent of the Code of Ethics to every aspect of every action by a member of the national cabinet too, and hence no such complaints have previously been laid.
I want to mention one specific recent incident, regarding an ANC National Minister.
I have taken note of the reprimand issued by President Ramaphosa to Minister Mboweni recently with respect to his various Twitter comments regarding the removal of Zambian Central Bank Governor and the threat of mobilization in late 2020. I have noted with interest that despite, in one of his tweets, Minister Mboweni promising to “mobilize if not given reasons why the Central Governor has been fired by President Lungu” no action was taken by the Public Protector.
In defence of his twitter action Minister Mboweni repeated them and went on to say that: “You know. Troublemakers are game changers! I am glad that I am a TROUBLEMAKER!”
On the basis of the Public Protector’s views as to the application of the Executive Ethics Code, clearly these tweets will be found to have been published in his capacity as an executive member of the national government, and in so doing caused a grave diplomatic incident that caused a response from Zambia and a diplomatic incident with third party consequences, to the embarrassment of this country.
In this matter President Ramaphosa advised the nation subsequently that he had “severely reprimanded” Minister Mboweni, albeit that no proof the said reprimand has ever been provided, as far as I am aware.
Given all of the above I have concluded that a reprimand issued to Minister Bredell is appropriate, fair and reasonable.
The full report and the letter to Minister Bredell were sent to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament this morning for tabling- thereby fulfilling the requirements for remedial action set out by the Public Protector.