Mkhwebane to launch fresh probe into politicians' roles in Estina matter

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane told MPs her office would open a new case file to probe the role of politicians and individuals in the Estina dairy farm matter.

Mkhwebane was heavily criticised in February after the release of her report into the Estina matter, which made findings against the Free State Department of Agriculture.

The Democratic Alliance, the original complainants, labelled the report a "whitewash" because it had not probed the role of former Free State premier Ace Magashule and the Gupta family, both at the centre of the project.

The report was also criticised for not consulting more thoroughly with the intended beneficiaries of the project, who had been deprived of an intended R220m in total.

On Tuesday, justice portfolio committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga asked Mkhwebane if she was worried that investigative units such as the Hawks were "running ahead" of her work by making arrests and raiding the Gupta family's compound.

Mkhwebane admitted that the previous Estina report did not include an investigation into politicians, as the report had been finalised in 2015 already and the original complaint did not include a query into politicians.

However, she said her office could open their own case file into politicians, without mentioning specific names.

"So, we will have to relook into the roles especially of the politicians, and also the implications for the beneficiaries, and the impact on them."

She could not say how long the opening of a new file would take, but undertook to give the committee a reply by the end of April when it is to be assigned to an investigator.

Magashule, Zwane to be probed

Mkhwebane told journalists after the meeting that Magashule and then provincial head of agriculture Mosebenzi Zwane will be looked at specifically.

She could not however probe the Gupta family, as they were private citizens and not elected public officials.

"I don't have jurisdiction over private individuals, but we will have to investigate public officials and whether they are implicated or not," she said.

She decided to open the new case after being urged by the portfolio committee, she added.

Office in need of more funds

Mkhwebane appeared before the committee to present her office's budgetary needs for the current financial year and the medium-term framework over the next three years.

She said her department had a R29m cumulative shortfall and needed Parliament to increase her budget to R285m this year and a total R870m for the next three years.

Responding to a separate question, she again denied any personal involvement with the State Security Agency (SSA), a common accusation by the Democratic Alliance since her appointment in 2016.

Her office only used the SSA as an institution to aid investigations, she declared.

In another question, she also denied that she had a frosty relationship with Deputy Public Protector Kevin Malunga, who was "on training" with the SSAto learn qualitative protocols.