South Africa, Politics

Parliament: President Zuma responds to written questions, provides no answers

By Marianne Thamm 12 April 2016

One of the ways the National Assembly tries to hold the executive to account (apart from approaching the Constitutional Court) is to cross-examine ministers orally and through written questions. On Tuesday President Jacob Zuma provided written replies to several pressing questions by opposition party members. True to form, our fearless leader managed to side-step almost all the landmines strewn in his path. By MARIANNE THAMM.

First up was DA Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans David Maynier who wanted to know whether it was President Zuma who had actually decided to remove former Minister of Finance, Nhlanhla Nene, from the finance portfolio on 9 December 2015.

You have to read between the lines a bit here, of course. Maynier is suggesting the now not-so-hidden hand of the suddenly-and-recently-relocated Gupta family.

Covering all possible bases Maynier fired a quick volley, “if not, what is the position in this regard; if so, why was he removed?” Maynier added that the president should also inform him whether “he consulted any person (a) before the removal of Mr Nene and/or (b) after the removal of Mr Nene on 9 December 2015; if not, why not, in each case; if so, (i) what is the (aa) name and (bb) designation of each specified person consulted and (ii) why were the specified persons consulted; whether the decision to remove Mr Nene had any implications for the state of the economy; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details; whether, subsequent to removing Mr Nene, he offered to reappoint him to the finance portfolio; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details?”

Very little wriggle room, you would agree?

But wriggle the president still managed to do, replying shortly and sweetly, “It is a matter of public record that Mr Nhlanhla Nene was relieved from his duties as a Minister of Finance on 9 December 2015. It is the prerogative of a sitting president to appoint and change members of his/her Cabinet as he deems necessary. It is the same prerogative enshrined in the Constitution that I exercised on 9 December 2015.”

With regard to the reported loss of about R500-billion to the country’s economy after the president used this disastrous prerogative, President Zuma replied, “Decisions to make changes to the Cabinet are made with the best intentions and for the public interest, including the economy.”

The tenacious Maynier asked a further question as to whether the president had offered Nene “another strategic position” and if not, why not, and if so, when had he been offered the position and what position was he offered?”

One can almost imagine Maynier shining one of those police strobe lights into Zuma’s eyes.

In full stride Maynier continued, inquiring whether President Zuma had consulted Nene about “the specified strategic position prior to being removed from the finance portfolio; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details? And whether the specified person (Nene) has accepted the specified strategic position; if not, why did he reject the specified strategic position; if so, when did he accept the specified strategic position?”

To which President Zuma replied: “I have publicly stated on several occasions that South Africa nominated Mr Nhlanhla Nene for the position of head of the African Regional Centre of the New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS Bank. Processes to make an appointment to that position are under way under the aegis of the New Development Bank in Shanghai, China.”

To the rest of Maynier’s questions the president replied, “See the reply to question 1 above” and once again “See the reply to question 1 above.”

Of course, on Tuesday, the same day the president provided his replies, former minister Nene in an interview said that since his strategic deployment had not materialised he had given up gardening and had accepted a job in the private sector. He did not reveal any further details of the job.

EFF Commander-in-Chef Julius Malema got straight to the point and wanted to know whether the president “intends to re-deploy the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs to the Ministry of Economic Development; if not, whether he has found that the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs has the appropriate experience to deal with the crisis that exist in local government?”

He’s talking about ’Dubaigate’ Des van Rooyen, who missed a crucial press briefing on the country’s readiness for local elections on Monday after news broke over the weekend that he had gone on a day’s jaunt to Dubai in December for “personal” reasons the same time that the Gupta family were in the UAE city of man-made islands, fountains choreographed to lights and music and a “lively nightlife”.

I appointed the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs in terms of section 91(2) of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996,” said Zuma.

Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota is a better speaker than question asker and put this to No 1: “Whether, in view of the great necessity to have policy certainty in these dire economic times, he had canvassed various organisations (details furnished) to obtain their total and unreserved support for the (a) eight points he and the business leaders with whom he had been meeting in February 2016 had agreed to, (b) National Development Plan and (c) rapid elimination of convoluted bureaucracy impeding the functioning and expansion of small businesses; if not, why not; if so, what are the details of the agreements with each of the various organisations; (2)whether he will make a statement on his commitment to creating a business-friendly climate to prove that South Africa was indeed open for business?”

The NDP, said Zuma, “is supported by the vast majority of South Africans and many important stakeholders in our society. Government, working together with other societal sectors, is implementing the NDP through the Medium Term Strategic Framework. The meeting with the captains of industry in February 2016 reached a decision that the eight points you have alluded to in the question will be processed by a joint government-business task lead led by the Minister of Finance and the Chairperson of the board of Telkom, Mr Jabu Mabuza. (2) I have said on many occasions that South Africa is open for business. This is the same message the South African delegation took to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January this year. Recently the Minister of Finance led a South African delegation of government, business and labour leaders on an international tour meeting with investors to communicate the message that South Africa is open for business and investment. I have also established an Inter-Ministerial Committee which I chair to look at ways in which investment can be attracted to our country and to remove obstacles to investments.”

Nothing, nada, zilch about looming downgrades and junk status exacerbated by the president’s disastrous but albeit constitutionally mandated prerogative to fire a finance minister for no good reason just before Christmas.

DA Shadow Minister of Labour, Sej Motau, asked the president how much had been spent on legal and other fees with regard to defending the Constitutional Court application by the DA and the EFF.

Zuma replied that since the “matter” was recently finalised counsel would “submit their bills to the State Attorney. The State Attorney is required to verify the bills and effect payment. Thereafter the Bills are submitted to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The Department of Justice invoices the relevant departments for a refund, in this case, the Presidency. The Presidency will only be able to ascertain the amount spent after the above process is concluded.”

The disturbing symmetry of it all is essentially that the taxpayers will be paying the president’s legal fees incurred in a matter challenging his irregular expenditure of taxpayers’ money on upgrades his private home.

Cope’s Deirdre Carter, in an attempt to get the president to publicly commit to accidental Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, asked whether “in line with his [Zuma’s] undertaking during the State of the Nation Address on 11 February 2016 to create political and policy certainty, and in line with the statement by the Presidency on 29 February 2016, he will articulate his full and unstinted support for the Minister of Finance and the fiscal consolidation that the Minister is seeking to achieve; if not, why not in each case; if so, what unambiguous and full statement is he willing to make for investors, rating agencies and the business community?”

President Zuma replied “I appointed the Minister of Finance because I have confidence in his ability to execute his responsibilities. The fiscal consolidation programme he announced in the Budget Speech was developed collectively by the Cabinet and is fully supported by the Cabinet.”

EFF MP and Commissar responsible for Mobilisation, Campaigns and Special Projects Godrick Gardee asked whether the Minister of Finance made any recommendations of potential candidates for the position of Commissioner of the SA Revenue Service?

There is a sitting Commissioner of SARS, so there is no need to look at potential candidates when there is no vacancy,” replied Zuma with regard to SARS Commissioner Commissioner Tom Moyane.

The final word went to Maynier who asked the president “whether any meeting took place where he (a) in line with his power to appoint Ministers and Deputy Ministers in accordance with section 91(3) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 and/or (b) any (i) member, (ii) employee and/or (iii) close associate of the Gupta family allegedly offered the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr Mcebisi H Jonas, (aa) the position of Minister of Finance and/or (bb) any financial inducements to accept the specified position offered; if not, what is the position in this regard; if so, in each specified case, (aaa) what are the names of the persons whom the Deputy Minister met, (bbb) when and (ccc) where did each such meeting take place and (ddd) what are the relevant details of each specified meeting; (2) whether the Deputy Minister reported the (a) meeting(s) and/or (b) offer(s) of inducement; if so, in each specified case, (i) to whom and (ii) when was it reported; (3) whether he will make a statement on the matter?”

President Angazi replied, “I am unaware of such a meeting taking place except for the public statement that was recently made by the Deputy Minister of Finance.”

Another day, several more bullets dodged. Just (still) another day in office for President Jacob Zuma. DM

Photo: South African president, Jacob Zuma during the State Of the Nation Address in Cape Town, South Africa, 12 February 2015. EPA/RODGER BOSCH/POOL

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