Pay up, Mr President!

2014-03-20 00:00

THE calls for President Jacob Zuma to pay for the luxurious and expensive upgrades at his Nkandla home started at his doorstep yesterday.

The message from Zuma’s neighbours as the storm finally broke on the Nkandla report was a clear one: pay up Mr President!

However, in its reaction, the cabinet was firm that Zuma would not be made to pay and that all items flagged by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela were in fact required for security purposes.

Scelo Mhlongo, from kwaShange, who matriculated three years ago and is unemployed, said Zuma must pay for the “extravagant” expenditure in his home. “That money could have built many houses for the poor.”

Zinzile Makhathini from kwaShange said Zuma has not done anything for her area. “Zuma had since enriched himself and his family, leaving us to fend for ourselves. I don’t care about what he does and I don’t vote for him.”

Makhathini lives in a wattle and daub house less than 200 metres from Zuma’s home.

An unemployed middle-aged resident in the kwaNxamalala area, living directly below the president’s homestead and who asked not to be named, was critical of Zuma’s lifestyle and the construction of Zumaville. “If there was any wrongdoing in the building of the Zuma homestead, then he must answer for it, and pay for it if required to do so.”

Simon Zuma, who lives in kwaShange area, said if she (Madonsela) said there was any wrongdoing in the process then “the leaders must sort this and leave us, the people, out of it. They never involved us from the beginning so what do they want us to do now?”

Madonsela yesterday — after a two-year investigation — released her report into security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla homestead.

The cost of the upgrades initially expected to cost R27 million had spiralled out of control with the final bill “conservatively estimated” to amount to R246 million or higher.

Madonsela yesterday said the expenditure incurred by the state, including buildings and other items installed by the DPW (Department of Public Works), many of which went beyond what was reasonably required for the president’s security, was “unconscionable, excessive and caused a misappropriation of public funds”.

Madonsela found that critical service delivery programmes were sacrificed and money was diverted towards upgrades to Zuma’s homestead.

She recommended that Zuma pay back a percentage of the upgrades.

“The president is to take steps with the assistance of the National Treasury and the SA Police Service to determine the reasonable cost of the measures implemented by the DPW at his private residence that do not relate to security,” she said in her report.

“[Zuma is to] pay a reasonable percentage of the cost of the measures”.

The Public Protector said the amount to be paid back should be based on the cost of the installation of some or all of the items that were not accepted as security measures.

The Presidency said yesterday that Zuma will study the findings and recommendations of the Public Protector in the context of the existing government interventions, and will communicate his response in due course.

The ANC had been expected to react to Madonsela’s report yesterday but rescheduled their press conference to today.

Opposition parties and civil society organisations were scathing in their criticism of the Nkandla project.

The DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko described the release of the report as an “historic day in our fight against the corruption, cronyism and nepotism which have run rampant during Zuma’s term in office. It is a victory for the Constitution and the rule of law.

“The Public Protector’s damning findings show the extent to which President Zuma has been implicated for this role in the Nkandlagate scandal and that his actions were ‘inconsistent’ with the Constitution.”

Mazibuko said she would submit a formal request to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, to recall the National Assembly as a matter of urgency to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Zuma.

Today the DA is expected to lay criminal charges at the Nkandla police station.

The IFP described the Nkandla report as “a great roadmap of the extent to which government officials, those around the president and even the president himself have gone to try and hide their deeds”.

“Though it needs detailed study, it is clear that the president is directly implicated in the lavish constructions on his homestead,” said IFP secretary-general Sibongile Nkomo.

The Freedom Front Plus said the report made it clear that taxpayers’ money was misappropriated and said criminal charges should now follow.

The FF Plus’s Dr Pieter Groenewald said Zuma should immediately repay taxpayers the money used to pay for the improvements.

“Criminal procedures should be instituted against all tenderers and officials who had not followed the correct tender procedure.”

Corruption Watch issued a statement yesterday saying the findings on Nkandla have severely damaged the credibility of the government and key custodians of public resources.

“Even though Advocate Madonsela’s report exonerates President Jacob Zuma from having deliberately misled Parliament regarding the upgrade to his private residence, it reveals damning evidence of the disregard for public money by the president and key government departments.”

Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said the organisation supports Madonsela’s call for President Zuma to repay taxpayers’ money used for the upgrade of his private residence that she has found to be unrelated to any cognisable security consideration.

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