Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma is not obliged under any law to respond directly to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on the Nkandla upgrades.
That’s according to the ANC in Parliament, which accused Madonsela of a “desperate” attempt to “dictate” terms to Parliament, as the party again came to Zuma’s defence.
The ANC's strongly worded statement follows the release of the seven-page scathing letter Madonsela sent to Zuma on Thursday.
The ANC’s parliamentary caucus, through chief whip Stone Sizani, said it noted with “disappointment” Madonsela’s letter.
In it, Madonsela takes issue with Zuma’s response and his failure to respond adequately to her Secure in Comfort report on the upgrades.
The letter was sent to Zuma on the day the EFF caused a stir in the National Assembly where its leader Julius Malema and 24 MPs called for Zuma to “pay back the money” spent on the Nkandla upgrades, as recommended by Madonsela.
Her letter reads: “Your conduct in relation to the implementation of the impugned upgrades at your private residence may have been unethical and in violation of the Executive Ethics Code”.
She writes that Zuma must “pay a reasonable percentage of the cost of the measures as determined with the assistance of national Treasury, also considering the Department of Public Works apportionment document”.
Madonsela is also not too impressed by the president’s instruction to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko to determine who should pay back money and how much.
In the letter, she states that Zuma’s response gives Nhleko “power he does not have under the law” which “unintentionally requires him to usurp the review powers of the courts”.
Sizani said that as far as the Executive Members Ethics Act of 1998 is concerned, it “directs that the president must submit a report to Parliament, not to the public protector’s office, for its consideration”.
“The report is currently before Parliament and an ad hoc committee has been established to consider it and make recommendations for adoption by the House.
“The report of the president to Parliament takes into consideration all key reports relating to the security upgrades, including that of the public protector titled ‘Secure in Comfort’,” said Sizani.
He said the provisions of the act are “firmly in line” with the constitution “in which the president and the executive are expected to account to Parliament”.
“The public protector herself, in her statement, widely covered in the media on Tuesday, confirmed this common constitutional comprehension when she stated that ‘it was now up to Parliament to weigh President Jacob Zuma’s response to the findings on public spending on his private Nkandla home’,” said Sizani.
Sizani said the letter, in which Madonsela takes issue with the president’s submission and sets a dateline for him to respond, “is inexplicable in the light of her stated position last week”.
“It is difficult therefore to reconcile her statement that she would leave it to Parliament, not her office, to ‘evaluate’ the president’s response with the contents of her letter,” said Sizani.
He said this was a “complete somersault” between the public prorector’s position on August 20 and her position articulated in her letter which “suggests a desperate attempt to dictate terms to Parliament rather than respect parliamentary processes and its constitutional authority”.
Sizani said Madonsela should respect the process that is under way in Parliament “and refrain from engaging in extra-parliamentary processes”.
The SACP has also accused Madonsela of undermining democratic institutions by writing the letter.
The party criticised her on Sunday, after their three-day central executive committee meeting in Joburg, for saying little about Zuma’s response to her report.
It said the protector was acting in a manner inconsistent with her own report.
“As all democratic institutions need to respect each other, we need to urge the public protector to respect her own report,” said SACP first deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin.
SACP secretary-general Blade Nzimande accused Madonsela of not respecting parliamentary processes.
“It is very important to respect processes. The public protector clearly contradicts her own report. Whether there should be payment or not, that should be determined by the processes in place.”
He said, while the party did not have issues with Madonsela, it was concerned about her conduct.
“She has crossed boundaries she’s not supposed to cross. She must protect the integrity of her office.”
Meanwhile, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) has backed Madosela’s call that Zuma must respond to specific recommendations in her report.
Casac made the call following its advisory council meeting in Joburg on Saturday, where members deliberated on a number of issues “of a very serious constitutional principle that arise following the chaotic scenes in Parliament last week”.
In a statement, Casac’s Lawson Naidoo said the views expressed by members of the advisory council endorsed the call by Madonsela that Zuma must respond to the specific recommendations in her report on Nkandla, which she has now emphasised in her letter to the president on Thursday.
“Parliament, in turn, bears the responsibility to ensure that the president provides those answers without further undue delay,” Casac said.
At its meeting, the Casac advisory council considered “first, and foremost” the principle of parliamentary accountability, which under the constitution states that “the executive should be accountable to the elected legislature (section 92, 2)”.
“There is a history of gradual but persistent erosion of executive accountability to Parliament. Hundreds of written parliamentary questions remain unanswered.
“Often incomplete or insubstantial replies to oral and supplementary parliamentary questions are provided, which undermine the executive’s accountability,” Naidoo said.
The president, he said, should be allowed to complete his answers to the questions that had been tabled for answer last week, and respond to any supplementary questions in the National Assembly.
“This should be arranged as soon as practicable. Parliament has a responsibility to ensure that reports of the ‘independent institutions supporting constitutional democracy’, such as the public protector, are properly tabled,” Naidoo said.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said at the first sitting of the ad hoc committee on Nkandla that the DA will move for Madonsela to be called to appear before the committee and to table the contents of her letter. - Additional reporting by Lebogang Seale