Zuma passes buck on Nkandla

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IOL ST PresidentZuma01 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS The nation is paying a serious price for the presidents default positions of fudge, silence, delay or telling all sides what they want to hear, says the writer. File picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma has formally washed his hands of responsibility for the spending on security upgrades to his Nkandla home - and left it up to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko to decide whether he should pay any of the costs.

The president has also not accepted - though he didn’t officially reject - Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on the Nkandla scandal.

Submitting his response to the controversy to Parliament on Thursday, Zuma said among the steps he felt appropriate was that the police minister should “report to cabinet on a determination to whether the president is liable for any contribution… having regard to the legislation, past practices, culture and findings contained in the respective reports”.

This is in contrast to remedial action called for by Madonsela in her report on the upgrades - expected to run to R246 million when completed.

She said Zuma should ask the Treasury and the SAPS to determine the “reasonable cost” of measures not related to security - including a visitors centre, amphitheatre, cattle kraal, chicken run and swimming pool - and pay a reasonable percentage of this from his own pocket.

Madonsela also found Zuma and his family had benefited improperly from these non-security items and he should “ideally have asked questions about the scale, cost and affordability” of the project.

Given that news reports from as early as 2009 had alleged the “exorbitant” sum of R65m was to be spent at Nkandla, Madonsela said Zuma would have been expected to intervene to prevent further excessive spending. His failure to do so was a violation of the executive ethics code and was inconsistent with his office.

Zuma did not address these findings in his response.

While he said his report to Speaker Baleka Mbete was “not a critique” of the reports he had considered - those of the public protector, joint standing committee on intelligence and progress report of the Special Investigating Unit - his not commenting on them “is not reflective of the fact that I am accepting of the same”.

He was satisfied with the progress of the SIU investigation and that interventions proposed or already taken under civil and criminal law, along with departmental procedures, “speak to the seriousness of their findings”.

Zuma said the SIU had advised that “disciplinary dockets” against 19 officials were being finalised, criminal dockets were being prepared against those suspected of criminal offences, suspected fraudulent tax clearance certificates were to be referred to Sars and counsel were being briefed to bring civil claims against “certain contractors, suppliers or service providers”.

It was reported on Wednesday that more than R155m in damages was being claimed from Zuma’s architect, Minenhle Makhanya.

Now that Zuma has submitted his response, it is likely a new ad hoc committee of Parliament will be established to consider it - a move ANC chief whip Stone Sizani has said the party would initiate.

Sizani said the submission of the report would allow Parliament to “swiftly subject it to an appropriate parliamentary mechanism for official consideration”.

Parliament confirmed Mbete had received Zuma’s report and said the National Assembly would deal with it when it reconvened - with the new term starting next Tuesday after a break for constituency work.

Zuma, meanwhile, may find himself subjected to a grilling on the subject when he replies in person to questions next Thursday.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema submitted a question asking when Zuma would furnish Parliament with his response on the Nkandla scandal - opening the way, if the question stands, for opposition parties to attack the president on his report.

Malema could not be reached for comment on Thursday night.

The DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said he was concerned by the president making determinations on the appropriate steps, rather than an ad hoc committee of Parliament.

He was also “struggling to understand” how Zuma could ask the police minister to decide whether he should pay anything.

“The minister is appointed by the president - it’s the irony of a boss asking his junior to determine what the boss must pay back,” Maimane said.

“Our view is that Parliament must engage this matter so that the president can be subpoenaed to come and account. He’s ignored key findings in the public protector’s report on issues such as how much he should pay and whether he agreed or not.”

It was unclear whether Zuma had reprimanded the ministers involved as recommended by the public protector, Maimane said.

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