More than six years into the Nkandla scandal, President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday proposed a settlement in the Constitutional Court case brought by the opposition that would see him reimburse the state for improvements to his rural home.
The presidency said Zuma proposed in a letter sent to the registrar of the court that it order the finance minister and auditor-general to determine an appropriate amount to be refunded.
“To achieve an end to the drawn-out dispute in a manner that meets the public protector’s recommendations and is beyond political reproach, the president proposes that the determination of the amount he is to pay should be independently and impartially determined,” the presidency said.
“Given the objection by one of the parties to the involvement of SAPS, as the public protector herself had required, the auditor-general and minister of finance be requested by the court, through appropriate designees, to conduct the exercise directed by the public protector.”
Since public protector Thuli Madonsela released her report Secure in Comfort in 2014, Zuma has defied opposition calls to comply with her directive that he cover a reasonable amount of the cost — to be determined by treasury with the assistance of the police service — for upgrades that did not relate to security.
He relied on a report released by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko which found that luxuries included in the project did double duty as security features — notably that the presidential swimming pool was indispensible for fire fighting.
Zuma’s offer comes a week before the court is due to hear the case brought by opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters, who accuse Zuma of flouting the law by failing to heed Mandonsela’s directive that he refund the state for luxuries added to his home. The matter is set down for February 9, two days before Zuma will deliver his State of the Nation address in Parliament.
Last year, the address descended into a brawl between security forces and members of the EFF who chanted “pay back the money” at Zuma and were dragged out of the National Assembly.
The presidency said Zuma’s offer constituted a “simple course” to comply with the remedial action ordered by Madonsela, but noted that he remained critical of aspects of the report.
Madonsela found that Zuma had derived undue benefit from the security upgrade that spiralled to a cost of more than R200-million and eventually also included a cattle kraal, chicken run and amphitheatre.
The presidency maintained on Tuesday that Zuma was not, and could not be, deemed liable for wrongdoing found to have occurred in the project that has, for years, been held up by his political foes as the defining scandal of his administration.
“How those irregularities happened continue to be investigated in separate inquiries relating to officials and professional consultants on the project,” the presidency said.
“The report specifically found no wrongdoing of any kind by the president. It also found no benefit for which the president could to any degree be required to compensate the state in relation to nearly all aspects of the project.”
On Tuesday, Zuma claimed that he had all along been willing to “contribute to any increase in value” to his property, determined in an objective manner, and said he supported the need for finality in the matter.
He added that it should be noted that Madonsela accepted that this was only needed in relation to five items.
The EFF directly petitioned the Constitutional Court after Nhleko’s report was adopted, arguing that the steps taken by Zuma in response to Madonsela’s report were unconstititional. The DA, which initially took another legal route, then also turned to the highest court.
The Supreme Court of Appeal held last year in the Hlaudi Motsoeneng matter that no state entity may institute a parallel process to one conducted by the Public Protector and as a result choose to ignore the directives of the chapter nine institution.
The DA have argued that this was what Zuma had done in preferring Nhleko’s findings to that of Madonsela. Law experts have said the SCA ruling set a precedent the Constitutional Court was likely to heed. – African News Agency (ANA)