On Monday morning I was welcomed to the Office of the President at the Union Buildings to inspect his declaration of interests. I had no reason to believe they would show me anything that would clarify the claim that Jacob Zuma received R1-million a month for the first four months of his term as president back in 2009, allegedly as an employee of a private security company. But it was not only my right as a citizen, but also my duty as leader of the opposition, to confirm whether this income, as exposed in Jacques Pauw’s explosive book The President’s Keepers, was listed in his declaration of interests. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t.
The year in question was 2009, but I requested to see his declarations for each year from 2009 to 2017. The documents shown to us by his office on Monday make no reference to this massive monthly income while allegedly on the payroll of Royal Security, a company owned by his friend and benefactor, Roy Moodley. The declarations also make no reference to benefits derived from the Nkandla upgrades, or the loan he supposedly received from VBS Mutual Bank to pay for a portion of these upgrades, or the lavish sponsorship of his birthday bashes in 2015 and 2016 by the controversial Bosasa company.
The declarations shown to me give the impression that our president is a man whose affairs are perfectly in order and who does things by the book. They certainly don’t paint him as someone who failed to declare his interests within 60 days after taking office back in 2009 – as prescribed by the Executive Ethics Code – or only partially declared his interests the following year. They don’t paint him as the kind of person who allegedly failed to submit tax returns for his first four years in office.
The question is: Why do we set the bar so low when it comes to our president? I can access any Member of Parliament’s declaration of interests online. Why should I have to jump through so many hoops to see the president’s? And what is the point of declaring gifts – like the watch he received from the Black Management Forum – if these declarations show no monetary value?
Should the president not be the epitome of transparency? Should his affairs not be conducted at a higher ethical level than those of anyone else? Should his leadership not restore a sense of pride in the presidency and demonstrate his accountability as a servant of the people?
And this also raises bigger questions about our expectations of our leaders. Shouldn’t we require our president not to involve himself in business, not to have shareholding and not to run foundations? Shouldn’t he put these interests on hold for the duration of his term and focus solely on running the country? If he had no additional avenues of income with additional tax obligations, it would remove a lot of temptation and suspicion.
Knowing what we all know about Jacob Zuma – and there is certainly no lack of smoking guns implicating him in wrongdoing – I’m not even sure why he still keeps up the pretense. Not even his most ardent defenders truly believe that his financial affairs are anywhere near above board.
Still, I had to ask and I had to see for myself. Because these declarations are a black and white record of his version of events. They cannot be spun otherwise. And although what I was shown is the “public” section of the declaration – and there also exists a confidential section – none of what I went looking for belongs in the latter. The confidential part of the declaration is reserved for things like the value of interests in a corporate entity, the details of confidential foreign travel, the addresses of private property, the value of pensions, the financial interests of family members and the members’ liabilities. Any form of income most certainly belongs in the public section. And Jacob Zuma declared none other than his salary as president.
I also asked to see his written confirmation that he received no remuneration other than his salary as president in the 2009/2010 financial year. This is required by section 5.6 of the Executive Ethics Code, which states that “when a member makes a disclosure, the member must confirm in writing to the Secretary that the member receives no remuneration other than as a member of the Executive”. They could not furnish me with such a written statement, and frankly I didn’t expect that they would.
South Africans gave up expecting Jacob Zuma to comply with the rules a long time ago. Whether it’s his duties as prescribed in the Constitution, his obligations as stipulated by SARS, his requirements in terms of the Executive Ethics Code or general adherence to the laws of the country that govern corrupt and fraudulent behaviour, Jacob Zuma considers himself exempt. He dodges every question put to him, he uses every available legal loophole to delay justice and he laughs openly at his accusers. He has become the archetypal Big Man Politician who believes in two sets of justice – one for himself and one for everyone else.
Instead of refuting the claims made in Pauw’s book by explaining why his name might appear on the payroll records of his friend’s company, he just shrugs and says: There’s nothing to explain. And in doing so, he has again left us with far more questions than answers.
We don’t know why a sitting president would be on the payroll of a private company. We don’t know what service or influence he would offer this company in exchange for such a large amount of money. And we don’t know why this company would then allegedly settle the outstanding tax payable on this income (estimated at around R400,000 a month) privately with SARS. But what we do know is that all of this is highly illegal and amounts to an impeachable offence.
We also know that questions by SARS officials into this Royal Security matter, as well as into Zuma’s tax compliance, set off a chain of events that ultimately led to the near destruction of the tax collector. Everyone who dared poke around the president’s tax affairs found themselves hounded out of their job as Zuma’s man on the inside, Tom Moyane, started fortifying the walls around the president.
Our country cannot survive the destruction that this ANC government is wreaking for much longer. If we are to have any chance of staving off an economic and social collapse, then we will need institutions like SARS to remain independent, clean and extremely efficient. We will also need the laws of our country to be applied equally to all citizens, including the president.
I will not rest until we have answers to all the questions regarding Jacob Zuma’s sources of income and his tax affairs. But I also know that Zuma is not the beginning and end of our problems in this country. He is just a very visible symptom. The ANC is the cause. And until the entire ANC government vacate their offices in the Union Buildings to make way for a government that serves the people instead of robbing them, progress will be a distant dream. Our only hope lies in a post-ANC South Africa. DM