Public Protector lays down challenge to ANC: Zuma is guilty, now, what you going to do?
Athol Trollip, Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance
25 April 2010
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The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the Public Protector’s finding that President Jacob Zuma’s 245 day delay in disclosing his financial interests constituted a breach of the Executive Ethics Code.
On March 8 this year I requested that Adv. Thulisile Madonsela investigate President Zuma’s apparent failure to disclose his financial interests, assets and liabilities within 60 days of taking office. Despite various attempts by the Presidency to justify the president’s behaviour, Adv Madonsela’s comprehensive report is unequivocal in its view that the President has violated the Code. In the report, Adv. Madonsela confirms that “[t]he president’s failure to comply with the time requirements of the Executive Ethics Code and his conduct constitute a breach of section 5.2 of the Code”.
This report is critical because it goes to the heart of the issue of accountability, currently so contested in South African politics. The President of the country has been found to have violated the law and this matter will now rightly be forwarded to Parliament. The question now is, what is the ANC majority going to do about this report? Is it doing to send a clear and unequivocal message that this sort of attitude to the law is unacceptable, or is it going to cower in front of the President and make excuses like the ruling party has done with regards to Julius Malema?
This report constitutes the biggest test this new parliament in general and ANC majority in particular has yet faced.
The President has in the past resisted calls for wealth audits and touted existing parliamentary mechanisms as sufficient monitors of Executive Members’ financial interests. His own example has shown these mechanisms to be sorely wanting. The response of Parliament to the President’s breach of the Ethics Act, will say as much about the ANC and its support for accountable leadership as the President’s flagrant flouting of the Act says about his own approach to accountability.
Unfortunately, a lacuna in the Executive Members Ethics Act means that no proper recourse has been provided for instances in which the President himself is the subject of an investigation into an ethics code violation. In fact, President Zuma is effectively being asked to act as judge, jury and executioner over his own trial. He signed the Ethics Code into law, then breached the Ethics Code, was investigated in terms of the Ethics Code, and is now, in terms of the Act, required to apply his mind to a report about his own misconduct, and recommend to Parliament what corrective steps he himself should follow. It really is a farcical situation – one that Parliament must take legislative steps to remedy. The Democratic Alliance will take the initiative in this regard and submit a private members’ bill, in order to address the Act’s blatant deficiencies.
Our proposal for the establishment of a Presidency Portfolio Committee is also essential in fostering greater accountability in the Presidency. The Presidency and the two ministries in the presidency are not currently overseen by a corresponding portfolio committee in the National Assembly. We believe there is no reason these government departments should be exempt from oversight, and we are encouraged that the Speaker and the Chief Whips Forum have already showed support for this proposal.
The Public Protector did request that we not release this report to the public; however, after careful consideration and after having consulted the Public Protector, and having informed the President of our intentions by letter on Thursday, we have decided to make the report public. We have done so because we believe this report is, first and foremost, in the public interest and, second, because we believe the President is the wrong person to be considering the report, as it implicates him (although we are sympathetic to the fact that Public Protector was obliged to send to him by law). The DA had requested that it be sent to the Deputy President instead.
We welcome the integrity that the Public Protector’s office has shown in investigating the matter. Under Adv. Madonsela’s predecessor, the independence of the Office came into question on a number of occasions. That does not appear to be the case