Zuma fails to declare his assets

Time of article published Mar 7, 2010

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By Gaye Davis and Sapa

President Jacob Zuma has not made any declaration of his financial interests, assets and liabilities as required by the law, the Sunday Tribune can reveal.

The Executive Members' Ethics Code says that every cabinet member must disclose full particulars - including those of their spouse, any permanent companion and dependant children - within 60 days of taking office.

Zuma will have been in office for a year on May 9. Since that date Zuma, who had two current wives, married a third, has paid lobolo for a fourth, has acknowledged he has sired 20 children.

Presidency spokesman Vincent Magwenya confirmed that the president had not declared.

His failure to declare his assets comes at an awkward time as alliance partners Cosatu and the SACP gun for those of the ANC's office bearers they believe are using government office to enrich themselves.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi again raised the issue of lifestyle audits in Durban yesterday, saying their implementation for ministers and members of Parliament was crucial in the fight against corruption.

Magwenya defended Zuma's tardiness in complying with regulations.

"When he came into office there was a discussion about the need for him to declare," Magwenya said.

"In the course of that discussion there was a lack of clarity on whether he really needs to declare. The lack of clarity was on the interpretation of the language in the act.

"There was a feeling that no, he does not need to declare - and also, there was a consideration of what has been the precedent," Magwenya said.

The Executive Members' Ethics Act became law in 1998. It specifically provided for an Executive Members' Ethics Code to be drawn up to prevent the potential for, or any actual, conflict of interest arising out of a clash between private interests and public duties, and to guard against people elected to positions of trust using them to enrich themselves or improperly benefit anyone else.

The act clearly states "cabinet member" includes "the president".

While all MPs are required to declare their interests, the president ceases to be an MP the minute he is elected at a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.

The code binds all cabinet members, deputy ministers, premiers and provincial executive council members to act at all times in good faith and in the interests of good governance and to meet all the obligations imposed on them by law.

Asked whether former president Thabo Mbeki had declared his interests while in office, his spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said he had.

Ironically, it was Zuma himself who, as acting president, signed off the code when it was promulgated in July 2000.

Magwenya said Zuma had asked his legal team for an opinion.

"There has been a delay and the team has missed the 60-day deadline," Magwenya said.

Magwenya said Zuma had, at the same time, instructed that a submission for the declaration of his interests, assets and liabilities be drawn up, "so that in the event the opinion... said unequivocally he needs to declare, that submission would be ready".

Magwenya said the presidency legal team was providing the opinion. It is headed by former Department of Justice official advocate Bonisiwe Makhene, but includes Zuma's attorney, Michael Hulley.

Hulley is also drawing up Zuma's declaration of interests.

Zuma has been reported to have received generous handouts from friends and associates, including hefty contributions towards the work on his Nkandla homestead.

Recently, the spotlight has fallen on the women in his life - and the extent to which they are being bankrolled by business associates.

Professor Richard Calland, executive director of the Democratic Rights and Governance Unit at the University of Cape Town, said: "Legally, the president should disclose, and if he wants to walk the talk on conflict of interest, now is the time to publicly disclose his outside financial interests.

"Payments made to spouses, in cash or in kind, represent a difficult area. But if the president wants to convince us of his probity, he should open up his wives' financial relations with businesses and benefactors."

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