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Nobody is above the law, Mr President, and it’s time for you to lead by example

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Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist and columnist at Daily Maverick and is part of the founding team of Maverick Citizen. Prior to Daily Maverick she worked as a communications and advocacy officer at Public Interest Law Centre SECTION27.

The decision for the President not to appear before Scopa in light of his alarming statements about the misuse of state funds can only be construed as the ANC closing ranks to protect itself.

Some of us have a very vague understanding of what the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) is. Well, to put it plainly, it’s the members of Parliament who watch our country’s purse.

Scopa’s function is described as the “interrogation and evaluation of instances of unauthorised expenditure; [pronouncing] on unauthorised expenditure timeously; interrogation of instances relating to Irregular and Fruitless and Wasteful Expenditure”.

Its job is to scrutinise the use of public money and make sure that it is spent on public services and not on the enrichment of individuals or political parties.

So when members of this committee raise a concern, we should probably all sit up and pay attention.

Now, in this instance the concern is about the recording of President Cyril Ramaphosa in a closed ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, saying that he is aware of “comrades” having campaigned for votes using state funds. He is recorded as saying: “Investigations will reveal that a lot of money, of public money, was used, and I said, in this case, I am prepared to fall on the sword, so that the CR17 campaign, yes, should be the only one that’s looked at and not the others, because the image of the African National Congress is what I am most concerned about.

“Each one of us knows that quite a bit of money that is used in campaigns, in busing people around, in doing all manner of things, is often from state resources and public resources.

“And we cannot kid ourselves when it comes to that… I would rather they say yes, you got money from this businessman for CR17, than for the public to finally hear that their money, public money, was used to advance certain campaigns.”

There are a number of things that are concerning about the statement, mainly that the President is not willing to “fall on his sword” for the country but for the ANC. It is an odd assertion, considering that as President of the country his primary allegiance should be to the Constitution and the wellbeing of the country’s people.

Perhaps the President may need reminding that Chapter 5 of our Constitution says the following about the duties and obligations of a South African president and member of the national executive (Cabinet):

“The president is the Head of State and head of the national executive; must uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic; and promotes the unity of the nation and that which will advance the Republic.”

The president is also the head of the Cabinet and as such the Constitution states: “Members of the Cabinet are accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions.”

The recording prompted ANC MP Mervyn Dirks to raise this as a concern with Scopa, which sent the President written questions asking him to clarify his statement. The President responded in writing. For his trouble, Dirks was rewarded with a suspension by the ANC parliamentary chief whip.

Scopa members, however, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the President’s response, saying “he was referring to info already in the public domain”, and they would like him to appear before the committee to clarify.

However, ANC MPs in the committee (who are in the majority) have voted against it, despite Ramaphosa having stated that, should Scopa want him to appear, he would. So why is the ANC opposing this?

Assuming that the President’s utterances have indeed been represented out of context, surely there should be no issue with him appearing before Scopa so that he can set the “context” straight and we can all go about our lives safe in the knowledge that our President is in fact preoccupied not only with the image of the ANC, but with upholding his office? However, if he is not able to withstand the scrutiny of Scopa it would mean that he has acted unethically and is in violation of his oath of office as well as the law.

Nobody is above the law and the President is not exempt from appearing before Scopa, particularly in light of having made such alarming statements at the NEC meeting. The decision for him not to appear can only be construed as the ANC closing ranks in order to protect itself.

This is an opportunity for the President to lead by example and urge his party members not to be driven by self-preservation but by the principles of Batho Pele (People First) – often hollowly espoused by the party – and to let him go through the necessary process of scrutiny unperturbed.

Also, seeing as it’s our money as South African citizens that has potentially been misused here, I am particularly keen for the President to sit before Scopa, as many others have done before, and to state his case. He has waxed lyrical all through his presidency about his commitment to and the importance of “transparency and accountability”, which is what won him the people’s favour over his predecessor; now is his chance to prove it. It’s not enough to hide behind the ANC MPs in Scopa letting him off the hook. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

 

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