Johannesburg - Deputy Speaker of Parliament Lechesa Tsenoli has vowed to oppose the DA’s high court bid to force President Jacob Zuma to disclose how much taxpayers’ money he has used to oppose the reinstatement of corruption charges against him.
The official opposition filed papers in the Western Cape High Court after Zuma refused to answer the party's parliamentary question pertaining to his legal bills.
In his latest question and answer session in Parliament, Zuma was asked by DA leader Mmusi Maimane to disclose the total amount of legal costs incurred by the Presidency since he took over office in 2009.
The chairperson of the DA's federal executive council, James Selfe, has accused Zuma of violating the law by deliberately refusing to answer the question.
In the court papers, Selfe also accused Tsenoli of aiding Zuma’s refusal to answer the question on his legal bills.
“Instead of directing the president to answer the question and disclose how much money had been spent, the deputy speaker regarded the matter as having been dealt with and directed that the proceedings continue.
Selfe said Tsenoli’s conduct also bordered on violating the constitution.
He said the party wants the court to declare Zuma and Tsenoli’s conduct unlawful and direct Zuma to answer the question in writing within a period of five days.
“The president’s failure to answer the question and the deputy speaker’s conduct in allowing this to occur fundamentally undermine the constitution, whereby the president is required to be held accountable by the National Assembly in the public interest," Selfe pointed out.
"If the president and other members of his executive can simply refuse to provide information to the National Assembly by not providing an answer, it imperils the ability of the National Assembly to carry out its ordained role,” the papers state.
Tsenoli told The Star that the DA’s high court bid was "crazy" and vowed to oppose it, saying he did nothing wrong.
“As a presiding officer, it is not for me to extract the answer out of the president on behalf of the opposition
“I also allowed Maimane to ask a supplementary question, but I can’t be involved in a political exchange between parties. It’s a crazy idea for them to go to court and we will definitely oppose it,” Tsenoli responded.
The DA is also asking the court to order Zuma and Tsenoli to personally bear the costs of the court bid if they decide to oppose it.
Yesterday, Selfe said the question of the president's legal bill was straightforward and required a simple answer.
“Zuma should have just provided the figure, but he deliberately evaded the question,” he said.
Selfe added that members of the executive would see Zuma and Tsenoli’s conduct as a licence to avoid accounting to Parliament and could continue to cause damage to the country’s democratic institutions.
Zuma was charged with 783 counts of fraud, money laundering and racketeering before Mokotedi Mpshe, who was the acting national director of prosecutions at the time, decided to discontinue prosecution against him in 2009.
The DA has since been waging a protracted court battle in a bid to have Zuma's charges reinstated.
In the papers, Selfe said Zuma had milked the public purse through his opposition of court bids during the past eight years.
“I estimate that the costs incurred by the president in relation to his legal representation in this regard must have exceeded R10million, possibly substantially more,” he said.
He argued that Zuma was compelled to answer questions put to him in the House, if they were approved by the Speaker of the National Assembly.
“If he does not have the information pertaining to the question, his officials must seek to find it.
"And if they cannot, the president must say so in his answer in Parliament," Selfe pointed out.
“The president’s answer provides no rand figure or estimate of expenses at all,” Selfe said.
He added that Zuma Justified why the state has had to foot his legal bills instead of giving the actual amount spent by the state over the years in defending him.
Zuma’s spokesperson, Bongani Ngqulunga, did not respond to questions sent to him by the time of publication.