All the president’s expenses

2009-02-03 00:00

Cape Town — picture the scene: Jacob Zuma, newly installed president of the Republic of South Africa goes abroad on a state visit and is introduced by his hosts. ‘’The president of South Africa, President Zuma and Mrs Zuma ... and Mrs Zuma ... and Mrs Zuma ... and Mrs Zuma.’’

An unlikely scenario, as Zuma will, hopefully, announce the name of his first lady shortly. But, far-fetched as it might sound, the spouses of South Africa’s first polygamist leader will be afforded equal status in terms of the Customary Marriages Act. This is an unusual situation by modern, global standards. For South African taxpayers, it will be a very expensive situation.

With his mounting legal costs, as well as the high price of being a polygamist with numerous children in the highest office of the land, Zuma looks set to become South Africa’s most costly president yet.

Tomorrow, when Zuma appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on charges of fraud and corruption, his case would have already cost South African taxpayers R10,7 million. This is without factoring in the costs of the state in instituting the prosecution, which legal experts say could add up to just as much as Zuma’s legal costs.

Last week, Die Burger newspaper reported that the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust believes the total cost of prosecuting Zuma could already have reached the R100 million mark and that the trust is now threatening to bring a case against the NPA on the basis that it is wasting public money. And his main trial hasn’t even begun.

But, legal costs aside, the costs of a Zuma presidency are already raising eyebrows in opposition circles.

Freedom Front Plus Western Cape leader Corné Mulder, who has researched some of the Zuma cost implications, said one factor that is often forgotten is the cost of the Kgalema Motlanthe presidency.

“It is because of Zuma’s trials and tribulations that we had to bring in Motlanthe as president. Even though he was appointed as an interim, substitute president for just six or seven months, Motlanthe will be entitled to a president’s salary for the rest of his life,’’ Mulder said in an interview with The Witness last week. “As president himself, Zuma would earn a salary of more than R2 million a year by the time he takes the position — and will receive the same amount as pension for the rest of his life.”

While the costs of his dependents are hard to calculate, there is much speculation that these could amount to millions, on top of Zuma’s salary.

“Remember in the Schabir Shaik trial, it emerged that Shaik gave Zuma an interest-free loan of more than R1 million so that he could meet his obligations to his extended family. Shaik also assisted him with the education of his children. There are huge costs involved in maintaining such a large extended family,” said Mulder.

Zuma, who is divorced from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and whose second wife, Kate Mantsho, committed suicide, currently has two wives. They are Sizakele Khumalo from Nkandla in northern KwaZulu-Natal and former nurse, Nompumelelo Ntuli. He plans to take his third wife, Thobeka Mabhika, soon. He declines to answer questions about his wives, but there is talk of another wife waiting in the wings. He is similarly reticent about the number of children he has, but it is speculated to be between 12 and 18.

In terms of Parliament’s Handbook for Members of the Executive, Zuma would, in addition to his basic salary, receive a housing allowance of 10% of his salary to contribute to a private home. On top of his official vehicles, he would also get a car allowance, equal to 25% of his annual salary, for the purchase of a private car.

The state will contribute an amount equal to 17% of his salary to a pension fund and will pay two thirds of his medical aid contribution covering his family. He will also be insured by the state for accident and life cover.

When he travels on official business, he may be accompanied by his spouses — (the handbook makes allowance for spouses in a polygamous marriage) and those dependent children who cannot remain at home are entitled to accommodation and subsistence at the expense of the state. The same arrangement applies to travel abroad.

In addition to their travel on business, members and their spouses are jointly entitled to 30 domestic business-class air tickets each year at the expense of the state. Dependent children are each entitled to six domestic economy-class tickets each year.

In terms of state obligations to the president, Zuma will also be entitled to travel on the state’s fleet of VIP aircraft, as well as receive VIP protection.

“It’s difficult to estimate what these costs will amount to,” Mulder said. “All he needs to do is list the individuals as dependents.”

Mulder continued: “In terms of security, this must be provided for the president’s household and children. The problem in the case of Zuma is that his households and children are stretched over three provinces. There will, therefore, be security costs in Cape Town, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. There is no ceiling limit with regard to the amount involved and to the number of dependents who can benefit.’’

In terms of state transport, Mulder said Zuma is entitled to make use of this already because he is a former deputy president. As president, he and all his wives will be able to use state transport. There is no limit to the amount involved. Whatever transport needs they have must be met.’’

Democratic Alliance MP Gareth Morgan, who has done research on transport costs, found that when he was deputy president, Zuma “showed a tendency” to use the presidential aircraft “far more than anyone else”. “It’s hard to talk about absolute numbers,’’ Morgan told The Witness. “But I have followed the use of the four VIP squadron jets for five years. The one thing that stuck out about Jacob Zuma was the number of flights he took between Pretoria and Durban. He has a home in KwaZulu-Natal. Many of these flights were on successive days. There is no justification for that level of flying if a person plans properly.

According to Morgan, presidents and deputy presidents are currently bound by provisions in the “mythical” presidential handbook. “I call it mythical because nobody has seen it. It was one of the outcomes of the investigation after then deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s trip to Dubai on a private holiday. The public protector recommended that guidelines on presidential trips should be finalised. As far as I know this never happened.

“I see no reason why Zuma’s particularly large family would be precluded from travelling on the state’s jets. We can disagree with the amount of flying, but according to the public protector, the travel arrangements of the president and deputy president — including for holidays — are controlled by the VIP unit which means they will always fly on VIP Air Force Squadron jets and only when a jet is unavailable will they go on a commercial flight.

“He will get these flights at will, including all holidays. When Mlambo-Ngcuka went on her trip, the public protector said that even when the president or deputy president conducts a holiday, they are entitled to use the jets. When Mlambo-Ngcuka flew to Dubai, she took not only her husband, but also a friend’s child. She filled the plane with whom she wished.”

“For instance, the Nkwazi jet can take a maximum of 12 people. With Mbeki, they tended to include a medical doctor, the minister in the presidency and his security detail. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we will have a situation where a whole lot of wives will be travelling on the airplane with him. But it is quite plausible that his wives will be able to fly and I see no reason in terms of customary law why any of Zuma’s wives can be prevented from doing so. In terms of protocol they would be able to travel with him if there is space.”

As part of a list of 783 payments allegedly made by Shaik and his companies between 1995 and 2005, he allegedly made payments to a number of educational institutions for the Zuma children, including to Holy Family College, Sacred Heart School, University of Zululand, Empangeni High School, St Catherine’s, Cape Technikon and the International School of Cape Town.

But the state will pay to get the Zuma offspring to school — members have one official vehicle for use in Cape Town and another for use in Pretoria, and official vehicles may be used for private purposes such as transporting school-going children to school.

The government will also provide transport for his children to school provided they do not exceed 15 kilometres in one direction.

Similarly, when the president is away from home on official business, any spouse or family member who stays at home will be entitled to transport by the state and can be taken wherever they need to go.

On the subject of taxation, the handbook states: “Members are responsible for acquainting themselves with their own tax obligations”.

As a private citizen, Zuma failed to render his own income tax return for eight years from 1995 to 2003, when Shaik submitted and signed them on his behalf. He did not disclose any of the payments he had received from Shaik and others in those late tax returns.

South African taxpayers can only hope that while they foot the bill for his and his family’s expenses, he will, as president of the republic, at least pay his own taxes.

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