President refuses to account for breach of Ethics Act
Athol Trollip, Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance
6 May 2010
Two important developments occurred yesterday in relation to President Jacob Zuma’s failure to declare his financial interests:
- First, in her report into the matter, Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela, stated that the President had 14 days to submit to Parliament with “appropriate comments and a report on action taken or planned”, her office’s report regarding his financial non-disclosure. Yesterday was 14 days since the Public Protector’s report was tabled and, to the best of the DA’s knowledge, the report has not been submitted to Parliament by the President and, certainly, the President has not set out what action needs to be taken in response to its findings.
- Second, the DA yesterday received a response from President Jacob Zuma to a DA parliamentary question concerning the President’s late disclosure of his financial interests. This question gave the President the opportunity to explain his questionable conduct and issue a formal apology to the South African public. However, instead of accounting for his actions, the President side-stepped the issue altogether, and offered a procedural explanation for what is a crucial ethical question. A copy of the president’s full response follows below.
Both of these events are significant, because they both go to the Constitutional principle of accountability and the President’s attitude towards it. With regard to the first, the President’s “comments” and proposed “action taken” will, when tabled, say much about his attitude to this matter. To date his response has been to obfuscate and deflect responsibility. But the truth of the matter is clear cut: He broke the law. He needs to accept that fact and apologise.
Likewise, his response to the DA’s parliamentary question is deeply problematic and symptomatic of a President that is unable to take personal responsibility for his actions. Accountability requires two things to be fully realised: an explanation and consequences. The President has complied with neither. He refuses to give an explanation, certainly not an explanation in which he accepts some responsibility and, second, it appears he is going to side-step any consequences.
Both of these things mean that accountability is denuded of its meaning. That should never happen in a constitutional democracy, but under the ANC, it seem to increasingly be the case that improper behaviour is not met by the appropriate sanction. That it should be the President adding credence to this trend is disturbing and speaks ill of his standing. The President must understand that leading by example is intrinsic to being respected.
It is imperative that the President be held accountable for his transgression in failing to disclose his financial interests within 60 days. He should be compelled to offer an explanation for his conduct and face appropriate consequences if the rising tide of public concern regarding his leadership is to be abated.
In refusing to publically state the reasons for his 245-day late disclosure, the President is undermining one of the most fundamental tenets of democracy: accountable governance. His flippant response to the DA’s question also speaks volumes about the President’s attitude towards parliament’s constitutionally mandated role of legislative oversight.
The DA will be writing to the Speaker, Hon Max Sisulu, to ask that this question be placed back on the order paper and responded to in a manner befitting of such a critical issue. The President has simply not responded to the question that was put before him. In addition, should the President fail to submit the Public Protector’s report and a report on the action taken, or due to be taken, on this matter within the deadline, the DA will raise this issue with the Speaker and the Public Protector as a matter of urgency.
President Zuma’s attitude toward his own misconduct and parliament’s oversight role point to a president who regards himself as above the law. Quite how President Zuma reconciles such behavior with the requirements of the oath he took on being sworn into office remains unclear.
THE PRESIDENCY: REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA
Private Bag X1000, Pretoria, 0001
QUESTION FOR WRITTEN REPLY
QUESTION NO. 957
DATE PUBLISHED: 30 March 2010
DATE SUBMITTED: 15 April 2010
957. The Leader of the Opposition (DA) to ask the President of the Republic:
(1) (a) Why has he not complied with the requirements of section 5 of the Executive Members' Ethics Act, Act 82 of 1998, to register his interests within 60 days of taking office and (b) how does he reconcile this with the requirements of the oath he took on being sworn into office;
(2) Whether he will apologise to Parliament and the country in this regard; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details?
This matter was referred to the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela. She submitted her report on the matter to the President and the Leader of the Opposition on 21 April 2010.
I have studied the report and have welcomed its findings and recommendations.
The report will be submitted to the National Assembly within 14 days of its receipt, consistent with the requirements of the Executive Ethics Act.
In addition, in light of the findings and recommendations of the Public Protector, I will present the report to Cabinet for discussion.