Durban - The public protector does not have the right to order President Jacob Zuma to repay public money spent on his Nkandla residence, a group of lawyers said on Friday.
The group, who call themselves the Concerned Lawyers and Educationists for Equality Before the Law, claim Public Protector Thuli Madonsela exceeded her powers.
Solomuzi Mdledle, who spoke on behalf of the group at a press conference in Durban, said Madonsela did not have the right to order Zuma to pay up.
“You cannot order repayment before you comply with section 34 of the Constitution,” he said.
Section 34 effectively provided for the right to a fair trial. It stated “Everyone has the right to have any dispute that can be resolved by the application of law decided in a fair public hearing before a court or, where appropriate, another independent and impartial tribunal or forum”.
Mdledle said that in terms of this section Madonsela should have either referred the matter to the courts or a public forum where Zuma could have answered the allegations.
In her report on the security upgrades to Zuma's private Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal, Madonsela said the excessive amount spent by government was unconscionable.
“The expenditure incurred by the state, including buildings and other items installed by the DPW (department of public works), many of which went beyond what was reasonably required for the president's security, was unconscionable, excessive and caused a misappropriation of public funds,” she said.
“The failure to spend state funds prudently is a contravention of section 195 of the Constitution and sections of the Public Finance Management Act.”
She found that critical service delivery programmes were sacrificed and money diverted towards upgrades to Zuma's homestead.
“Funds were reallocated from the inner city regeneration project and the dolomite risk management programme of the department of public works,” Madonsela said in her detailed report.
“Due to lack of proper demand management and planning, service delivery programmes of the department of public works were negatively affected.”
She recommended that Zuma pay back a percentage of the upgrades.
“The president is to take steps with the assistance of the National Treasury and the SA Police Service to determine the reasonable cost of the measures implemented by the DPW at his private residence that do not relate to security,” she said in her report.
“(Zuma is to) pay a reasonable percentage of the cost of the measures.”
Madonsela said the amount to be paid back should be based on the cost of the installation of some or all of the items that were not accepted as security measures.