ConCourt: Personal costs order against Public Protector Mkhwebane worrisome

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday morning dismissed her appeal to access personal tax information of former President Jacob Zuma.

Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: @PublicProtector/Twitter

CAPE TOWN - A major blow and a small reprieve for the beleaguered Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday morning dismissed her appeal to access personal tax information of former President Jacob Zuma.

This follows the North Gauteng High Court ruling against her in March, declaring that taxpayer information was confidential.

The SA Revenue Service had taken court action to stop Mkhwebane from accessing Zuma’s tax records in 2017.

The lower court found against her and ordered that she personally pay costs in that regard but the Constitutional Court gave Mkhwebane a small personal win.

The Constitutional Court said that it had noticed the trend of personal cost orders against Mkhwebane.

Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga said that recent personal costs order issued by the High Court were worrisome.

He said that in this particular case, the court had made it clear almost from the start that it would slap Mkhwebane with a personal costs order without any basis.

"In the present matter, the High Court reached conclusions in which it used epithets, in particular, nouns, which on the face of it gave the distinct impression that the Public Protector was a sure candidate for a personal costs order. But as it turned out, there was not a scintilla of evidence to support those conclusions."

In an earlier case involving Pravin Gordhan, he said the court failed to provide evidence to support its decision.

Madlanga said that for a public official to be personally liable for costs, there must be something substantial to back the decision up.

"Automatically, the Pubic Protector's office is more important than any incumbent. Needless to say, as the judiciary, we must not be guilty of contributing to the weakening of that office by making indefensible personal costs awards."

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