HSF wants Parliament to investigate whether Zuma should still keep his job

2017-05-10 19:58
President Jacob Zuma. (GCIS)

President Jacob Zuma. (GCIS)

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Johannesburg - The Helen Suzman Foundation wants the Constitutional Court to direct National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete to form an independent committee to establish whether President Jacob Zuma should remain in office.

In two batches of court papers filed at the Constitutional Court on Wednesday afternoon, the foundation asked the court to declare Zuma’s decision to remove former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas on March 31 unconstitutional, invalid and alternatively unlawful.

HSF, which filed the papers jointly with non-profit organisation My Vote Counts NPC, also wanted Zuma’s decision to be reviewed and set aside.

It said Zuma’s pattern of conduct during his reshuffling of the Cabinet on March 31 could not be said to be acting in the best interests of South Africa.

Instead Zuma was acting irrationally – and without proper regard for the law or his constitutional duties, recklessly – in full knowledge of the great and possibly irreparable harm suffered by the Republic and in a manner which, at the very least, had given rise to the apprehension of a conflict of interest and reasonable apprehension bias.

If the court granted that Zuma’s decision be set aside, the two parties wanted the court to direct Mbete to amend National Assembly rules within 40 days of the court’s order, to allow for a special independent committee to be established.

The committee would investigate the allegations against Zuma and the grounds for his removal.

Disregard

That committee would then submit a report to the National Assembly “as soon as possible” making recommendations relating to the allegations. The recommendations would then be presented to the National Assembly, followed by a vote.

The parties wanted the vote to be held “without any delay” after receiving those recommendations.

Alternatively, the parties wanted the court to direct Mbete to amend the rules of the National Assembly to provide a “sufficiently independent procedure” which would precede a vote for Zuma’s removal.

The parties wanted Mbete to submit the rules of the National Assembly to the Constitutional Court, within 45 days of the court making its order, to determine whether the rules had been adequately amended.

Within 10 days of the court approving the amended rules, the process of determining whether the allegations against Zuma constituted grounds for removal should then be completed without delay.

This vote would be different from a “vote of no confidence” because it would represent a less political safeguard against presidential misconduct.

“Unlike a motion of no confidence, which is inherently political in nature, the removal provisions incorporate objective standards by which to assess the President’s conduct, and if necessary, to remove him for such misconduct or failings,” it said.

HSF and MVC said Mbete had “steadfastly refused” and “alternatively failed” to take any steps to institute such a process before.

“In so doing, she has disregarded the independence of the Speaker’s office; is beholden to her political master, President Zuma; has ignored her duties to the Republic; has breached her constitutional obligations; and has facilitated President Zuma continuing to breach his,” they said.

In their affidavits, the parties explain to the court that Zuma acted “with wanton disregard” when he decided to fire Gordhan and Jonas.

At least a decade’s experience

Such a decision required “the most anxious thought, debate and care” especially during a time where South Africa was attempting to maintain its international, investment and economic credibility.

Prior to Nene’s sacking, the position of Finance Minister was one usually held by a senior official with at least a decade’s experience in the finance or economic cluster and was one position which did not change hands as frequently as other cabinet seats historically, they said.

“The first time around when he replaced former Minister of Finance, Mr Nhlanhla Nene, it may be said in favour of the President that he acted grossly negligently.

“When he acted in a substantially similar manner in March 2017, it is safe to say he acted with full knowledge of the harm which would inevitably result and with wanton disregard of factors which were required to be assessed, weighed and taken into account before making these replacements,” they said.

Zuma’s decision had since led to national discord, regress of any advancement towards national unity which led to mass protests, threats of violence, racially charged public statements, calls to disobey government as well as political infighting, they said.

HSF and MVC said they were insinuating that only Gordhan and Jonas could do the jobs but that if one was removed, that the President should have a good reason why he had done so.

“If this stability is to be sacrificed, then it must be done for a particularly good reason. It is submitted, however, that the President did not have a good reason in the present case,” they said.

They argued that Zuma enjoyed his power only within the confines of the Constitution and that all exercise of public power was subject to judicial review.

Given his failure to conform to the Constitution’s requirements, it now fell upon the National Assembly to take the constitutionally required steps.

Failure by it to fulfil its constitutional duty would also be subject to trial in court, they said.

“The National Assembly is required, in the exigencies of the situation that now confronts South Africa and which has resulted directly from the President’s conduct, to take steps to initiate/facilitate the possible removal of the President,” they said.

 

Read more on:    helen suzman foundation  |  anc  |  jacob zuma

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