Madonsela's Nkandla findings not binding - committee

Cape Town - A draft report by the parliamentary committee on the Nkandla controversy has absolved President Jacob Zuma and concluded that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's findings against him on misspending on his private home were not binding.

The remedial action of the public protector is not binding," the document, discussed by the ANC-only committee, on Thursday states.

The report also states that contrary to arguments by the political opposition it was not necessary to call Zuma to answer questions on the so-called security upgrade at his home that spiralled to a cost of R246m project and has haunted him since he took office.

"There was not a need to call persons mentioned as the investigations extensively and exhaustively extracted information from political office bearers," it continued.

The draft report accepts damning findings by Madonsela, the Special Investigating Unit and an inter-ministerial team that the project flouted regulations, but lays no blame on Zuma.

It states firmly that "the President did not request the upgrade" at his Nkandla homestead and that the minister of safety and security approved neither the cost nor the design of the project.

This meant, it adds, "that the project was initiated and implemented without the necessary authority and the expenditure could be deemed unauthorised as per the Public Finance Management Act".

ANC MPs suggested additions to the document - compiled by parliamentary content advisors - that would unambiguously exonerate Zuma and recommend steps against officials who flouted the law.

Mmamaloko Kubayi suggested that the report should include a clear pronouncement that Zuma did not contravene the Executive Ethics Code, since neither the SIU nor the inter-ministerial committee found that he had.

'Unduly benefited'

Madonsela, in her report released in March, found that Zuma had in fact contravened the code and had unduly benefited from improvements to his homestead.

Veteran ANC MP Mathole Motshekga contradicted this directly, saying he believed it would be "premature to come to a conclusion that there was undue benefit".

He went on to ask that the point be made in the report that Zuma had not acted improperly by introducing his personal architect Minenhle Makanya to state officials, and that they had elected to appoint the project leader and failed to follow proper procedure to do so.

"I find that there was gross negligence on the part of the officials," he added.

Kubayi added that the report should oblige government report back to Parliament on the steps it had taken against officials to prevent future abuses and a perception that the state wasted tax payers' money.

The drafters are due to next present a final report to the committee from which opposition parties withdrew in protest last month over the ANC's attitude towards Madonsela's report on Nkandla.

They argued that her directive that Zuma repay a portion of the funds spent on his home could only be reviewed by a court of law, and that therefore the ANC and the president's rejection of it was unconstitutional.

Motsoeneng case

But on Thursday ANC MPs said the ruling party's view had been vindicated by the Western Cape High Court's ruling in the Hlaudi Motsoeneng case last week.

The court correctly held that reports by the public protector were not binding, and therefor put paid to the opposition's campaign calling on Zuma to "pay back the money" - in the catch phrase of the Economic Freedom Fighters, said Motshekga.

"That court has actively come to our assistance by finding that the remedial action of the public protector is not binding and enforceable," he said.

Motshekga added that this meant that Madonsela's letters to Zuma in recent months, imploring him to respond adequately to her findings, had been misguided.

"The letters of the public protector to the president demanding compliance were informed by her wrong interpretation of the Constitution and the [Public Protector's] Act."

He said since interpretation had informed the opposition's demands that Zuma reimburse the state, the "pay-back campaign has therefore collapsed".

Pre-empting claims that the committee lacked legitimacy because it consisted only of ruling party members, Motshekga said these would be "outrageous" and called on the opposition to return to it.

"I hope they will come back and help us understand the basis on which they withdrew."

The Democratic Alliance, the party that went to court in a bid to enforce Madonsela's findings against the SABC on Motsoeneng's appointment as chief operating officer, has claimed that the same court ruling in fact vindicated its views on the status of her reports.

The DA pointed to the court's qualifying remark that state bodies could only deviate from the remedial action implemented by the public protector if they declared rational grounds, that would stand up in a court, for not doing so.

On Thursday, Kubayi said the committee's thorough reflection on the findings of all three investigations into the Nkandla allegations meant it had rationally applied its mind to the matter.
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