President Jacob Zuma has proposed to pay a portion of the money spent on upgrades to his private Nkandla residence, almost two years after the release of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report. Zuma has continually maintained his innocence in the matter, but has finally decided to act a week before the Nkandla case is due to appear in the Constitutional Court. Opposition parties remain sceptical. By GREG NICOLSON.
One week before the Nkandla matter is due to appear in the Constitutional Court, the presidency on Wednesday morning announced President Zuma “has proposed an end to the drawn-out legal controversy regarding the Public Protector’s March 2014 report on Nkandla”. Zuma’s attorneys have included the proposals in a letter written to the Registrar of the Constitutional Court, with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who will be joined by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Public Protector’s office, set to argue next Tuesday that the president should “pay back the money”.
“To achieve an end to the drawn-out dispute in a manner that meets the Public Protector’s recommendations and is beyond political reproach, the president proposes that the determination of the amount he is to pay should be independently and impartially determined,” read the statement “Given the objection by one of the parties to the involvement of SAPS, as the Public Protector herself had required, the Auditor-General and minister of finance be requested by the court, through appropriate designees, to conduct the exercise directed by the Public Protector.”
If agreed by the court and the applicants in the case the “appropriate designees” would likely have to determine a reasonable percentage for Zuma to pay of the costs on non-security upgrades, which included the cattle kraal, visitors centre, chicken run, swimming pool and amphitheatre.
The president has been adamant that he does not have to pay for any of the upgrades and has claimed the parallel investigations into the issue suffice. But after recent rulings on the Public Protector’s powers, particularly in regards to her report on the SABC and its COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, there was a strong chance that the Constitutional Court will upheld her recommendations.
In his statement, the president noted he “remains critical of a number of factual aspects and legal conclusions in the report” but had proposed a “simple course” to implement the Public Protector’s recommendation that he pay back a reasonable percentage of the costs to non-security related upgrades. “President Zuma has maintained his willingness to contribute to any increase in value to his property, objectively determined, as required by the Public Protector. He notes that the Public Protector accepts that only five aspects of the project give rise to a need for any determination – and that this determination still requires the proportion of the item and the reasonable cost to be established. The President also supports the need for finality in the matter of the Public Protector’s report. However, he believes and contends in his affidavits filed in court that the DA and the EFF have misinterpreted and/or are manipulating the Public Protector’s report for the purposes of political expediency,” said the presidency’s statement.
The president’s announcement follows years of investigations from Parliament and task teams that exonerated the president but were criticised by opposition parties as attempts to defend Zuma and by the Public Protector for failing to engage with her report and sidestepping the process of disagreeing with her recommendations. The Constitutional Court case, if it proceeds, will essentially be about the role and powers of the Public Protector and whether and under what circumstances can her findings and recommendations be ignored.
The EFF, who was the first party to announce it would take the president to the Constitutional Court, remained critical:
“He is not responding out of the goodness of his heart or out of understanding the importance of respecting the remedial action and recommendations of the Public Protector,” spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi told EWN. EFF leader Julius Malema was set to address the media on Thursday and the party planned a march to the Constitutional Court next week.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa on Wednesday welcomed the president’s announcement. “We welcome that as taking the issue forward,” he said, calling it “a step in forward to implementing the recommendation of what the Public Protector had suggested in her report”.
The Public Protector’s office was on Wednesday morning preparing a statement to issue later in the day.
The DA on Wednesday in a statement said:
“This wording is carefully non-specific, and the DA will not enter into any settlement that would effectively undermine the remedial action expressly prescribed by the Public Protector in her report entitled Secure in Comfort,” it said of Zuma’s statement. “In any event, this amounts to an admission by the president that he did, in fact, unduly benefit for these upgrades and is now attempting to avert any further damage to his public image before the DA won its case scheduled to be heard in the Constitutional Court next week Tuesday, 09 February 2016.” The party said it would ensure any settlement would be equitable and in line with Madonsela’s recommendations.
Later on Wednesday morning, at a press conference, the DA announced after taking legal advice it would proceed with presenting its heads of argument in court on Tuesday. “The DA notes the settlement offer made by President Zuma but contends that the contents of his settlement offer do not comply with the remedial actions as ordered by the Public Protector in her report entitled Secure in Comfort. In fact, we contend that the president designating the Auditor-General to come to a determination as to how much he is liable is the latest attempt to establish a parallel process, for a fifth time,” said the party.
The president’s failure to engage the Nkandla report rationally was illegal, unconstitutional and irrational, said the DA. The party was confident of winning the case after recent judgments on the powers of the Public Protector and said her recommendations cannot be substituted with an alternative resolution.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, who has been critical of the president, said Zuma was trying to avoid being forced to implement the Public Protector’s findings and instead wants to amend her recommendations. “We watch the turn-around with interest but the bottom line is that Zuma has no respect for the oath he took when he came to power and in fact he has no respect for this country,” said Holomisa.
He felt Zuma’s statement could embarrass his ANC colleagues. “How on earth are these people going to face the nation when they have been defending him saying he owed nothing?”
While the president’s announcement might win some public favour before the local elections, Holomisa was adamant, “Can the ANC please do us a favour, just call this gentleman back?” DM