Zuma should play by the rules

“We should not have to be dragooned into setting high standards in public life. We should willingly seek maximum openness about what our public representatives do, and receive.” These words are as true today as they were in 1996, when senior African National Congress member Kader Asmal said them.
Intrinsically connected with the advent of a democratically elected Parliament was an attempt to build a culture of integrity among elected representatives. A code of ethics was drawn up for MPs and members of the executive to declare their assets. In Parliament, an ethics committee was set up to further increase accountability. The watchwords were transparency, accountability and openness.
The codes of ethics for both MPs and the executive clearly envisage that elected representatives not “expose themselves to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and their private interests” or use their public positions for private gain.
In addition, the codes clearly state that interests that must be disclosed include shares, sponsorships, gifts, benefits, foreign travel and land. The code governing the executive clearly states that even liabilities must be disclosed, as well as the interests of spouses and dependent children.
When the codes were put in place, the emphasis was on building a culture of accountability and ensuring elected representatives and officials “did the right thing”. The central aim was never really punitive, but preventative.
In 2003, Idasa released a report titled Ethics in Post-apartheid SA, outlining the difficulties in the ethics regime and its often patchy implementation. Scrutinising the records of cabinet disclosures at the Union Buildings proved difficult and it was never clear how extensive executive declarations actually were. Again in 2006 the auditor-general reported that “declarations of interest by ministers, deputy ministers and government employees” was cause for concern. Also, the Public Service Commission found that, on the face of it, 14 out of 20 ministers and most deputy ministers had not disclosed their financial interests, as required in terms of the Executive Members’ Ethics Act and pursuant codes.
It is therefore cause for concern that it appears that President Jacob Zuma has not yet disclosed his financial interests as required by law. The usual practice is that the secretary to cabinet monitors disclosure. In terms of the Executive Members Ethics Act as well as the related Executive Ethics Code, members of the cabinet must disclose all financial interests and liabilities as well as those of their spouses and dependent children, within 60 days of assuming office. Zuma is therefore in breach of the law.
The main aim of the legislation is to prevent blatant conflicts of interests which result in personal gain trumping the interests of the country. That the Presidency does not seem concerned about this breach of the rules is not only undesirable but sets an unhealthy precedent. Why should ordinary MPs or ministers disclose their assets if the president has failed to do so?
Despite what appears to be obfuscation by Zuma’s advisers, there is no ambiguity about the law — he must disclose. During the trial of Schabir Shaik, the president’s former financial adviser, information about Zuma’s then chaotic financial affairs came to light. Recently there have been reports of one of Zuma’s wives benefiting from a catering contract in KwaZulu-Natal and questions were raised regarding the allocation of the contract . It thus becomes a source of discomfort when the president appears casual about disclosure, when the rules state clearly that this ought to have happened .
If elected representatives do not follow the rules of disclosure of financial interests, the public’s right to know is blunted. Zuma has made much about the need for a “moral code” and a discussion about morality. It is probably undesirable for him to try to initiate this type of discussion. All citizens really expect of their elected representatives is to provide leadership and to adhere to the rules of the game. If Zuma wants to provide more leadership, the ethics disclosure forms would be a place to start.

First published in Business Day

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The Judiciary and Politics

By Shameela Seedat

When the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) meets later this year to consider who will replace four titans of the Constitutional Court when their terms expire this October, it will be one of the first real opportunities to assess where our courts stand since this year’s election.

The departing judges are Pius Langa, Yvonne Mokgoro, Albie Sachs and Kate O’Regan. There are, perhaps, two immediate questions. First, will the new judges continue to uphold the Court’s reputation for promoting progressive values? Thus-far the 11 member Court has a track record of well-reasoned judgments that have deepened democracy by kick-starting several programs to implement social and economic rights, and by generally showing empathy for ordinary citizens, women, immigrants, and poor or otherwise vulnerable people.

The second pressing question is: how susceptible are judicial appointments to politics? Even in various mature democracies, presidents are known to steer the judicial system to a degree. For example, in the United States, presidents have chosen liberal or conservative judges who are expected to concur on divisive matters such as abortion, the death penalty, federal versus state rights and so on. Imagine then, for example, that recent rumblings on the relevance of our nine provinces morph into a highly contested legal dispute, or that the new national planning commission clashes with the DA-led Western Cape cabinet over housing policy in the province. Is it possible or likely that judges could be appointed for their suspected antipathy towards or support of government policy or provincial powers?

Furthermore, should we be concerned that President Jacob Zuma, as national leader plays an important role in choosing judges to the Constitutional Court, and with first-hand experience as to how individual judges can reach divergent legal conclusions, and himself bruised by some judges and not by others, can he be expected to remain neutral?
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SA Needs Pragmatism and Reassurance – Pre-State of the Nation

A month has passed since the April 22 election. The South African economy has entered its first official recession since the early 1990s. With a contraction of 6.4 percent in gross domestic product (GDP) in the last quarter and zero percent growth forecast for the second quarter of this year, all indications are that the worst of this recession is yet to come. The country needs a dose of pragmatism, reassurance and solutions.

 During the Mbeki years, characterised by stable but unequal growth and a booming global commodities market that meant relative economic stability, the State of the Nation addresses were increasingly mechanical and predictable. Mbeki was not afraid to court controversy and used this platform to espouse his Two Nations thesis, which later developed into a Two Economies analysis. However, criticism of his addresses focussed more on the deafening silences on critical issues, most notably, HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe.

Jacob Zuma and the ANC ran a strong election campaign, focussing on an agenda of socio-economic transformation. The campaign slogan of Together, we can do more holds an implicit admission that the ruling-party has not delivered enough on its previous goal of a Better life for all, and it is this theme which is likely to take centre stage at Zuma’s State of the Nation address. Given recent public protests at poor service delivery and continued threats of public service strikes within the municipal and health sectors, Jacob Zuma will need to Zuma engage with citizens on these issues and demonstrate strong leadership and will on behalf of the new government to deal balance various competing interests.  Zuma’s address will thus come in for keen scrutiny from the opposition benches and more importantly, he will experience increasing pressure by extra-parliamentary formations such as the ANC’s Alliance partners. The alliance partners will be looking to Zuma for the quid pro quo for their election support and citizens will be looking to him for direction during difficult economic times. In addition, business will want to see continuity in the midst of change. So, Zuma will have to navigate tricky waters if he is going to satisfy the high expectations of a variety of divergent stakeholders.       Continue reading

Zuma and His Cabinet

– By Judith February –  South Africans’ capacity for magnanimity has been well-displayed these past weeks. Jacob Zuma is our President. Despite the cloud of corruption which will continue to hang over his head despite occupying the highest office, we, the people, have a responsibility not only to demand accountability but to put our shoulders to the wheel. In Zapiro-speak, the shower-head has been suspended. Temporarily. Continue reading

Zuma and his cabinet

-By Judith February – South Africans’ capacity for magnanimity has been well-displayed these past weeks. Jacob Zuma is our President. Despite the cloud of corruption which will continue to hang over his head despite occupying the highest office, we, the people, have a responsibility not only to demand accountability but to put our shoulders to the wheel. In Zapiro-speak, the shower-head has been suspended. Temporarily. Continue reading

The State of SA’s Democratic Institutions

– By Shameela Seedat –

Media coverage leading up to next month’s national elections would leave many of us convinced of a dramatic plunge over the past few years in the level of public trust in South African democratic institutions.

Several significant events have led to such dwindling enthusiasm. These events include, to mention a few, suspected political interference in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Intelligence Services, the NPA’s decision to drop charges against ANC President, Jacob Zuma, the dissolution of the Scorpions despite their success in fighting crime, dubious circumstances around the dismissal of former NPA director Vusi Pikoli, unsatisfactory progress around the corruption trial of Police Commissioner, Jackie Selebi, and threats to the independence of our courts resulting from the legal charges brought against the ANC president.

The event that poses the most significant challenge to institutional integrity – the NPA’s decision to withdraw charges against Zuma – has been met with considerable scepticism. The rationale presented by Acting Prosecutions Director, Advocate Mpshe is not immediately persuasive since it is unclear that ex-Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy’s alleged abuse of process renders the prosecution of Jacob Zuma unfair and unjust. Furthermore, the NPA has not denied that, apart from political interference, Zuma has a case to answer. Hence, questions will continue to cloud the Presidency and the NPA. Continue reading

A Quick Guide to the Jacob Zuma Matter

See this quick guide to the basics on the Jacob Zuma matter … why did the NPA bring charges? Why did they drop charges? Is this the end of the case? What legal precedents are being set and what is their significance? Continue reading