Mpumelelo Mkhabela

What it means to be reprimanded by Zuma

2016-11-25 08:07

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In 2013, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela published a damning report entitled “Unsolicited Donations”. 

The report found then Communications Minister Dina Pule guilty of violating the Executive Ethics Act. By its definition, the Act regulates the ethical conduct of the president and ministers, among others. It was designed to prevent the use of public power for personal gain. 

Pule used funds donated for a state function to the benefit of herself and her boyfriend. In current political parlance, she had allowed her office to be “captured” by her boyfriend, a businessman with whom she enjoyed expensive trips abroad at taxpayers’ expense.

The report led to the humiliation of Pule who was reduced to tears in Parliament after she was ordered to apologise to the National Assembly for lying about her conduct. President Jacob Zuma fired her. And she pulled out of a list of parliamentary candidates in the 2014 elections. 

She is so far the only minister to have faced what those well-versed with the queen’s language would call a reprimand in the proper sense of the word. Since then, “reprimand” – in noun and verb – has been given the opposite meaning.

Since Pule, no cabinet minister got a lashing that matched an offence. To reprimand ministers means giving them a pat in the back for a job well done. The whole thing is as soothing as Guan Jiang Guang's addictive massage. You just want more of it like Minister David Mahlobo.

 “I have been asked to reprimand you, so I am therefore reprimanding you”, is one new illustrative definition of the word reprimand. “I have reprimanded the minister; the matter is closed,” is another. Who would be bothered with this kind of “reprimand”?

Pule must be wondering why she shed tears of shame in Parliament while those she left behind laugh off demands to have them reprimanded by the president. 

Unlike Pule, some ministers and the president have been found wanting by the highest court in the land but nothing has happened to them. Are some more equal than others in Zuma’s cabinet? Maybe links to Saxonworld could have saved Pule’s political career. Or perhaps evidence of telephone calls with Duduzane Zuma could have served as an insurance against punishment? 

Whatever could or could not have happened had she ever been spotted within an acceptable radius at Saxonwold, there was something more profound about the Public Protector’s report on Pule’s conduct. It contains some crucial remedial actions, none of which appears to have been implemented beyond Pule’s punishment.

Had the remedial actions been implemented, the public would have been saved from the numerous violations of the Executive Ethics Act. 

The “Unsolicited Donations” report ordered the minister of public service and administration to implement the following remedial actions to prevent violation of the Executive Ethics Act:

• Urgently consider subjecting cabinet ministers and provincial MECs to an ethics seminar;
• ensure that all new ministers attend an ethics seminar within two months of assuming office;
• ensure that the Executive Ethics Code is turned into a pocket booklet to be provided to all cabinet ministers on assumption of office, and
• ensure that the Executive Ethics Code is captured in posters to be placed in all executive offices.

Since Madonsela published “Unsolicited Donations”, no one seems to have bothered to take seriously the far-reaching remedial actions that, if implemented with the necessary commitment, would have prevented a number of the blunders, including violation of the oath of office by public officials.

A record number of ministers have since been found wanting. The president himself is consistently forced to respond to accusations of breaching the Executive Ethics Act. And the more he tries to fend off such accusations, the more he proves sceptics right that he has been captured. 

Zuma can’t resist defending the Guptas. There clearly has developed a symbiotic relationship between him and the Guptas that makes him defer to them at the expense of the country. He seems incapable of escaping the conflict. The Guptas have him by the tight leash.

The State of Capture report contains a number of pointers of possible violations of the Executive Ethics Act and the Constitution by Zuma and some ministers.

It’s time Madonsela’s remedial actions prescribed in “Unsolicited Donations” were implemented in full. The report was never taken on review and not one minister or Zuma has objected to attending a class on ethics and to have the Executive Ethics Act emblazoned on their office walls.

The call for public officials to adhere to the highest level of ethical conduct is echoing across the country. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has also taken it upon himself to preach about the importance of ethical conduct among those who exercise public power. 

On and off the bench, Mogoeng’s message is clear: ethical conduct would eliminate corruption and improve service delivery. 

* Mkhabela is station manager at Power FM and writes a weekly column for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    dina pule  |  thuli madonsela  |  state capture  |  ministers
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