Pretoria - It was a dark day for President Jacob Zuma - not only was the damning public protector’s report published, but he may also have to dig into his own pocket to foot the legal bill for his now aborted bid to gag the report.
According to a senior advocate who was part of the proceedings, this bill could run up to more than R3 million.
While ordering that the dreaded report be placed in the public domain by 5pm on Wednesday, the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, was also considering whether or not to hold the president personally liable for the legal fees of all the parties involved.
The court already slapped the Zuma camp with a punitive costs order - far higher than a normal costs order - but it was yet to be decided whether the taxpayer or Zuma himself would pay.
This issue was postponed indefinitely and Zuma was given seven days to deliver submissions to the court on why he should not be held personally accountable for the legal bill.
Zuma made use of the State Advocate’s office in instituting his legal proceedings. This office handles litigation instituted by State entities, regarding official issues of State.
The taxpayer pays the legal fees incurred by work done by the State Attorney’s office.
But opposition parties firmly put their foot down soon after the president’s legal team announced at the start of the proceedings that he was withdrawing his urgent court bid. This surprise move followed shortly after Zuma’s team was due to kick off proceedings by arguing why the state capture report had to remain under wraps.
The entire Tuesday was wasted when the Zuma camp opposed applications by the DA, the UDM, Cope and EFF, as well as former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, to join the proceedings.
It was not clear why the Zuma camp dropped their application, but it would have faced five sets of lawyers who all called for the release of the report.
While withdrawing the application, Zuma’s lead advocate, Anthea Platt, said he tendered the costs of the application.
If the opposition parties did not vehemently argue that Zuma had to pay up personally, the taxpayer would have once again had to foot the bill for Zuma’s litigation.
Both advocates Dali Mpofu and Dumisa Ntsebeza said Zuma should not again get away with running to court with his own personal issues and then expect the taxpayer to fork out for it. They were adamant that he had to own up and pay himself.
“The time has come for the president to accept liability in the multiplicity of legal actions in which he is involved and has been for the past few years,” Ntsebeza said.
He added that this application was stillborn and should never have been brought. “He is the number one citizen in this country. Now he asked the public protector, who is enjoined to protect all rights, not to implement the Constitution (by not publishing her report).”
Mpofu also launched a scathing attack on the president and said he should stop abusing his power by using state resources for his own personal gain.
He said this application had nothing to do with public interest. It was in fact in the public interest to publish the report. Mpofu said Zuma’s conduct should incur the wrath of the court by ordering him to pay up out of his own pocket.
“He is said to have acted in concert with the Gupta family in an irregular and corrupt manner in his personal capacity, and most certainly not in his official capacity as president,” Mpofu said.
According to him, Zuma should have obtained the services of private lawyers to fight his battles and not used the State Attorney’s office to try and gag the report.