Tit-for-tat over Zuma’s Nkandla pledge

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Copy of ca p2 nkandla done INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS President Jacob Zuma's homestead at KwaNxamalala, Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

Cape Town - A political spat has erupted over President Jacob Zuma’s undertaking to provide Parliament, within 30 working days, with a comprehensive, final response to the public protector’s findings on the R215 million security upgrades to Nkandla.

While the ANC in Parliament has welcomed this, the DA has criticised it as lacking a “definite commitment”, pointing out the due date for this final response falls in the parliamentary recess.

Zuma’s letter to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete is dated June 4, but it took a week for the letter to be published on Wednesday in Parliament’s record of work Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports.

In the letter, the president confirmed he had received a “provisional report” from the Special Investigating Unit which he had asked late last year to probe procurement irregularities in the upgrades. While this provisional report provided some “insights”, he needed time to consider it, he wrote, but would submit his final response within 30 working days.

It follows Zuma’s letter to Parliament in April, two weeks after Public Protector Tuli Madonsela released the 447-page “Secure in Comfort” report.

She had found widespread contraventions of procurement policies leading to the vast cost escalation, and that Zuma had “unduly” benefited. She said Zuma should repay at least some of the costs, particularly for the non-security comforts, including the amphitheatre, visitors’ centre, cattle kraal and swimming pool.

In April, Zuma said once he received the SIU probe outcome, he would “provide Parliament with a further final report on the decisive executive interventions which I consider would be appropriate”.

On Wednesday ANC chief whip Stone Sizani’s spokesman, Moloto Mothapo, said the president’s latest letter to Parliament illustrated “the seriousness” with which he regarded the matter. “It also affirms our long-held view that it would be in the interest of Parliament that it deals with the report of the public protector holistically rather than on a piecemeal basis.”

But DA MP and federal executive chairman James Selfe said the president’s letter indicated “some long-overdue progress”, and raised concerns over whether he would stick to the 30 working days deadline.

The DA has been calling on Mbete to re-constitute the parliamentary ad hoc committee on the Nkandla matter, which was shut down just before the May 7 elections because of a lack of time.

But Mbete indicated she did not have the power to re-constitute such an ad hoc committee while Parliament was in session; only the National Assembly itself could do so.

However, it remains unclear when the first sitting will take place, as next week is dedicated to the State of the Nation address, the two-day debate on the president’s speech and Zuma’s reply next Friday.

The DA sought legal advice on this more than a month ago, and Selfe said on Wednesday that Mbete’s reluctance to establish a new ad hoc committee was clearly visible. “The DA will not take this lying down. We will continue to fight for the establishment of this committee and finally find out who knew about the R246m upgrades to the president’s private residence.”

The ANC dismissed this as “frivolous”, and supported the Speaker’s response. The DA’s request was “extremely bizarre, irrational and premature”, said the ANC in Parliament.

The verbal sparring comes amid confusion over whether the ministerial security cluster is taking the public protector report on review to court after all. The former defence minister was replaced in last month’s cabinet announcement. However, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi stayed on.

Announcing the judicial review on May 15, the security cluster ministers said they believed Madonsela’s report “trespassed” on the separation-of-powers doctrine, and was against the constitution, which vested national security in Parliament and the executive. While the grounds of the review would be fully canvassed in the court papers, they added: “It is also the ministers’ view that some of the findings and remedial action proposed by the public protector in her report are irrational, contradictory and are informed by material errors of law.”

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