Is Zuma decisive or expedient? You decide

2011-09-24 08:46

On one level, it would be churlish not to welcome President Jacob Zuma’s ­decisiveness over the past week.

He has taken three important steps. Firstly, he declared that he would appoint a commission of inquiry into the arms deal that has vexed the ANC since 1999. Secondly, the ANC shelved the pernicious ­Protection of State Information Bill.

Thirdly, he ­announced that he had, as long ago as August, asked National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele to present him with reasons the presidency should not appoint a board of inquiry into his conduct in the course of the signing of the police headquarters lease.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has found that the signing of the multimillion-rand leases was illegal.

She recommended action against ­public works minister Gwen Nkabinde-Mahlangu and sought an explanation from Cele, who is friends with Roux Shabangu, the landlord of the troublesome buildings.

Given that the arms deal scandal is 13 years old, action on the public protector’s report is well overdue.

It is important that the president is ­attempting to bring closure on these festering sores for the sake of good governance.
But is it as straightforward as that, or is it a game of smoke and mirrors?

We sincerely hope not, but here is the counterview.

The bill’s critics have for months been pointing out that it is anti-constitutional. The authorities have made some concessions, but refuse to budge on the core critique, which is that without a public interest defence for people who may possess classified information, it is a harmful draft law.

Until the eve of Zuma’s meeting with US ­President Barack Obama and other heads of state who support the Open Government Partnership, the ANC was deaf to these concerns.

Then when it became clear how embarrassing it would be to sign the partnership while passing the secrecy law, the bill was mysteriously shelved on the eve of voting.

The arms deal commission of inquiry is a ­similarly expedient step.

Anti-arms campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne, who petitioned the ­Constitutional Court to set up a commission, is due in court soon.

Precedent on the judgment in which the court ordered that the legislation to set up the Hawks does not create sufficient independence suggests he may be in with a chance. So, the president orders his own commission.

And while the public protector’s report offers plentiful evidence that the leases were illegally signed, the president is now going to appoint a board to go through all the same evidence.

It looks like a huge eye-blind to us and a deflection from action. Sorry, sir, we are not convinced. 

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