Zuma loses cool over leases

2011-09-14 00:00

CAPE TOWN — President Jacob Zuma lost his temper in the National Assembly for the first time yesterday after he was peppered with questions on the findings of the public protector.

Opposition MPs insisted that Zuma explain “here and now” why he has not acted against Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, two months after the public protector issued a damning report on the minister’s actions.

Advocate Thuli Madonsela on July 14 found for the second time that Mahlangu-Nkabinde and police commissioner General Bheki Cele acted illegally and irregularly on two illegal agreements to rent offices in Pretoria and Durban for the police, worth some R1,8 billion.

Madonsela ruled that Mahlangu-Nkabinde should explain her actions to cabinet within 60 days. The minister ignored the public protector’s deadline, which passed yesterday.

After a shouting match between opposition and ANC MPs, Zuma, visibly angry, refused point-blank to say whether he would take any steps against Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

“I cannot understand why I have to answer to that,” he exclaimed loudly, stabbing his finger in the air.

He evaded DA member Marti Wenger’s question on the police buildings, saying it did not concern the topic under discussion in the house, which at that stage was “local government”.

Zuma told the MPs their shouting match was a waste of time. “The time [when I will answer your questions] will come. You will hear then.”

Mahlangu-Nkabinde watched the row without expression.

The sitting earlier erupted in chaos when speaker Max Sisulu refused requests that Zuma should answer questions, saying the public protector’s findings were “just rumours” and no court has found Mahlangu-Nkabinde guilty.

Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said Madonsela’s findings are valid.

“If we cannot depend on the public protector’s findings, what is the use of them?”

DA chief whip Ian Davidson accused Sisulu of protecting Zuma.

Cope’s Juli Kilian also demanded: “We expect from the president to account to this house, here and now!”

Zuma then came under a second attack when he said Co-operative Government Minister Sicelo Shiceka, who has been on sick leave since February, was in Switzerland to prepare for the Fifa World Cup in 2018.

Zuma demanded an explanation from Shiceka after allegations that he went to Switzerland to visit a girlfriend in prison.

While the opposition MPs openly laughed at him, Zuma said he cannot act against Shiceka before the public protector’s investigation is complete. “I must wait for the report,” Zuma insisted.

The public protector yesterday told Sapa she is satisfied with the progress report from government bodies on the police buildings rental issue and both the Presidency and Public Works had notified her on the steps they will take to rectify the matter.

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