The chairperson of the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services has distanced himself from the decision to hold an inquiry into Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
The committee on Tuesday voted to hold an inquiry into Mkhwebane's conduct following a Democratic Alliance (DA) request, to be held by the portfolio committee.
African National Congress (ANC) factional battles became a public spectacle on Tuesday, when five ANC MPs publicly overruled chairperson Mathole Motshekga's proposal to refer the matter back to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete.
Motshekga had pushed for an ad hoc committee to hold the inquiry, as it was an ad hoc committee that appointed Mkhwebane. ANC MPs preferred to keep the matter at portfolio committee level.
The decision angered both Luthuli House, and the office of ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, who on Wednesday labelled the inquiry a "witch-hunt" and a "malicious DA campaign" respectively.
Setting the record straight
Motshekga has now moved to set the record straight after claiming some media houses ignored his position of preferring an ad hoc committee.
"The chairperson of the committee at no stage sided with certain members of the committee during a meeting to decide on the referral by the Speaker," Motshekga said in a statement on Wednesday evening.
He said he "made it clear" that due to the workload of the committee, and that MPs could also have a conflict of interest in deciding the Public Protector's fate, that the matter be referred back to the Speaker.
Both Motshekga and African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart had said MPs were at a conflict in "judging" Mkhwebane's future, as her controversial ABSA/Bankorp bailout report directed them to amend the Constitution in relation to the Reserve Bank's mandate.
They would therefore be "judges in their own case", they both said.
'I never sided with any parties'
"The matter was then put to a vote. At no stage did I, as the committee chairperson, participate in the vote or side with any parties... I never sided with any parties and acted impartial as a chairperson."
ANC whip in the committee Makgathatso Pilane-Majake told News24 on Wednesday that she did not want to comment on the matter after both the chief whip and ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa made their positions known.
She however did say they rejected a full on ad hoc committee inquiry, and only voted to "look into the matter" themselves as a portfolio committee.
Motshekga on Wednesday too said they have not decided on the merits of the matter.
He told journalists on Wednesday that the committee only decided the forum in which the review would take place.
The DA meanwhile has upped the ante, calling on President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday to suspend Mkhwebane while the committee begins its inquiry work.
DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach, who tabled the initial request, said Zuma may suspend the Public Protector while an inquiry into his or her work commences in Parliament, according to the Constitution.
"Advocate Mkhwebane has demonstrated numerous times that she is not fit to hold the office of the Public Protector, and the DA has opposed her appointment from the start."
She also slammed the ANC caucus's mixed messages on the issue.
"The fractures in the ANC caucus has once again come to the fore, with their members serving on the portfolio committee... voting in favour of an inquiry into Advocate Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office, only for a subsequent press release to slam it.
"Once again, the work of Parliament is undermined by ANC infighting," Breytenbach said.
The inquiry will also look into the conduct of Deputy Public Protector Kevin Malunga, who the DA has accused of calling off an investigation into fraud in the Ekurhuleni municipality.
However, Mthembu labelled this accusation as rubbish, saying the investigation has not concluded.
A date has not yet been set for the committee to begin proceedings. It will be outside normal Parliamentary working hours.