ANC MPs on Tuesday moved to absolve President Jacob Zuma of any wrongdoing in the Nkandla controversy as they unilaterally pursued Parliament’s consideration of the matter following an opposition walkout. They said there was no evidence that Zuma asked for luxuries to be added to his private home in KwaZulu-Natal, or knew about an abuse of public funds as the cost of so-called security upgrades to the estate soared to R246 million.
“What comes out very strongly is that the president did not request anything and the president did not receive any money,” ANC MP Mmamoloko Kubayi said.
The opposition withdrew from the ad hoc committee on Nkandla last week in protest at the ruling party’s reluctance to enforce Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s finding that Zuma must pay for part of the project.
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, senior ANC MP Mathole Motshekga reiterated his view that Madonsela’s work was subject to parliamentary oversight and that the opposition was wilfully misreading the Constitution in this regard.
“I want to lay this matter to rest,” Motshekga said.
“The remedial actions recommended by the public protector are not binding on Parliament because if it were so it would mean that the public protector was elevated to the jurisdiction of Parliament,” he added.
“Such a thing would be absurd”.
Motshekga then proceeded to contradict Madonsela’s conclusion that Zuma had violated the Executive Ethics Code by failing to contain state spending at Nkandla and unduly benefiting from it.
He said she used the words “may have” in her report released in March, and therefore he believed: “One should be up front here and say the president has not violated any code of conduct.
“Even to begin to suggest payment by the president, of anything, begins to seem absurd,” he added.
In fact, Madonsela on page 435 of the report, titled Secure in Comfort, stated: “His (Zuma’s) failure to act in protection of state resources constitutes a violation of paragraph 2 of the Executive Ethics Code.”
Motshekga further suggested that it was wrong for Madonsela to order anybody to implement her findings before they were considered by Parliament, and to have given Zuma 14 days to respond to her report on Nkandla when she released it in March.
“It is my considered view that chapter nine institutions cannot and should not issue instructions to comply within a certain period.”
Zuma himself last month in a letter to Madonsela asserted that he was not obliged to “rubberstamp” her report — titled Secure in Comfort — after she noted that five months on he still had not indicated how he intended to give effect to it.
The committee was also tasked to consider the findings of the Special Investigating Unit, which is trying to reclaim R155 million in misspent funds from Zuma’s private architect Minenhle Makhanya.
But it was the ruling party’s questioning of Madonsela’s report that prompted the opposition to boycott the process which DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said on Tuesday was now a “whitewash” aimed at shielding Zuma from accountability.
The Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, Freedom Front Plus, Inkatha Freedom Party and African Christian Democratic Party expect their reading of her powers to be vindicated by an imminent ruling in the Western Cape High Court on the case of SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng, but have vowed to approach the Constitutional Court if need be.
Motshekga accused the opposition of trying to delay Parliament’s recommendations on Nkandla and to undermine the separation of powers by asking the courts to tell the legislature how to interpret the law.
“I want to call on the opposition parties to come back and act in good faith because their conduct is despicable.”
He added that the row over powers of the office of the public protector pointed to “a lack of policy clarity” which Parliament may need to clarify — raising, not for the first time in recent months, the spectre of a review of these.
Asked to comment, Madonsela tersely told reporters in Pretoria: “Going forward… I will leave the process in the hands of Parliament, South Africa and the judiciary.”
The committee concluded on Tuesday that it was ready to start drafting its report to hand to the National Assembly by the set deadline of October 24 when it meets again next week. Chairman Cedric Frolich said notions that the process had become illegitimate because it involved only one party were false because the committee retained a quorum.
ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said it would not call Zuma to provide more clarity on questions Madonsela believed he failed to answer fully, as the opposition had suggested, before finalising its report. It would be “unfair and unwarranted” to question the president on decisions he did not authorise, she said, adding that officials acted without his consent when they tore down a chicken run, cattle kraal and tuck shop at Nkandla because their location interfered with security measures and built “enhanced” versions elsewhere on the property.
It was also wrong to conclude that Zuma was “enriched” by these additions, she said. The SIU report concluded that Zuma and his family had been enriched because the refurbishments — which also included a swimming pool and amphitheatre — had increased the value of their property. SAPA