President Jacob Zuma. File photo: Antoine de Ras

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma had used “delaying tactics” to avoid submitting a full response to Parliament over Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report into upgrades at his Nkandla home and, in the process, lost a golden opportunity to prove his innocence, opposition parties claimed on Wednesday.

Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota also went on the attack, saying Zuma’s stance on Nkandla was an indication that he was trying to hang on to undue public funds “by hook or by crook”.

Accusing Zuma of avoiding responsibility, Lekota likened the president to a person who admits to receiving stolen goods by mistake while also insisting on keeping them.

Zuma met his deadline to submit a response to National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu on Wednesday, only to explain that he would respond in full once he had received and studied the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report into the spending of R215 million in public funds at Nkandla. Madonsela had asked Zuma to respond to Parliament – as required in terms of the Executive Members Ethics Act – within 14 days.

“Noting that… the public protector, the justice, crime prevention and security cluster of cabinet and the SIU have all inquired into the same subject matter, the president has decided he will give a full and proper consideration to all the matters before him and, upon receipt of the SIU report, will provide Parliament with a further report on the decisive executive interventions that he would consider to be appropriate,” Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said.

The president remained “concerned” about the allegations of maladministration and impropriety around procurement in the Nkandla project, “in particular, the allegations of cost inflation”.

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said Zuma’s move effectively meant “an elected head of state was openly playing games with the Parliament which elected “him.

She said: “His decision to wait for the SIU to be finalised before reporting back to Parliament on what steps he will take… is nothing more than a delaying tactic.

“Why is it that President Zuma cannot tell Parliament, today, whether he will abide by the recommendation to repay money he owes for improperly benefiting for the ‘security upgrades’ at his private home in Nkandla?” she said.

The status of the SIU’s Nkandla report allegedly changed from “completed” to “ongoing”, hours after the Presidency released its statement on Nkandla, sparking accusations of attempts to shield the president from accountability.

“The suspicious last-minute changing of the SIU website regarding the status of its Nkandla investigation from ‘completed’ back to ‘ongoing’ barely two hours after the presidency press statement, and subsequent confirmation from SIU that its investigation will only be completed at the end of May, confirms that President Zuma’s delaying tactics are aimed at delaying accountability until after the elections,” the DA said.

FF+ chief whip Corné Mulder said Zuma’s response disregarded both the public protector and the constitution. “If Zuma is so innocent and ignorant about the Nkandla issue as he alleges, he now had the ideal opportunity to prove his innocence in Parliament. He chooses not to do it.”

Cope’s Lekota said Zuma had failed to summon Parliament to table his responses before the MPs.

Zuma’s statement at the weekend that he would not repay taxpayers for the non-security upgrades at his private home was the “height of irresponsibility” by someone who had taken an oath of office.

“To now say this money came to me by mistake, but I am going to keep it, that now goes beyond ‘I did not know’. It suggests that there is an intention by hook or by crook to keep public funds.”

Maharaj dismissed Lekota’s utterances as “wild” statements made for electioneering purposes. “I can understand political leaders making all sorts of statements because we are into election mode, and I can understand when some of them make statements which are also wild because they have no hope of being a ruling party,” Maharaj said.

The Mercury and The Star