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We have a right to know who funds Zuma family

Whether or not the president and MaNtuli are headed for “Splitsville”, as a recent headline put it, might be titillating news for the tabloids — but it’s frankly uninteresting.

Our president has a colourful private life and while it might be simpler, we cannot simply tune out of the soap opera. For the way in which the president conducts his private affairs is everyone’s business — if taxpayers’ money is being used. Another wife means an added burden on the public purse that will last long after the vows have been taken.

In recent weeks reports have surfaced about MaNtuli’s eviction from a home that, it is alleged, is being paid for by some of the president’s financial backers. The Shaik trial told us what a large network operates to keep the Zuma household in the manner to which it is now accustomed. And herein lies the rub. The public has the right to know if there are instances where private individuals are paying to sustain the president and his household. Who are the backers and what influence do they wield? What, if anything, do they receive in return for such donations to the Zuma family, and is the public interest being compromised as a result? We simply do not know.

Earlier this year a row erupted over the president’s failure to disclose his financial interests. That the president hired his personal lawyer at considerable cost to the taxpayer (again) is even more curious. Michael Hulley ought not to have been paid handsome legal fees for what ought to be a matter handled by the director general in the presidency.

So what is to be done?

Three quick fixes spring to mind, and all fall conveniently within Parliament’s purview.

First off, the presidency has a budget in excess of R700-million. It has expanded considerably, yet no parliamentary portfolio committee exists to exercise oversight over the presidency. The formation of such a committee is now being considered by Parliament and will be a way of monitoring what happens within the presidency, from staffing issues to expenditure.

While there can never be a “quick fix” for the thorny issue of political backers, it is slowly becoming the cancer in our body politic, with the predictable array of consequences, from so-called “tenderpreneurship” to scandals such as “Oilgate”.

Introducing legislation to regulate private funding to political parties has not yet reached Parliament’s agenda — despite the ANC’s repeated promises. If there was transparency in relation to political donations the president would certainly need to take greater care about who was paying MaNtuli’s rent. Of course legislation is not a panacea for all ills and would not stop dodgy donations entirely, but it would go some way to creating a culture of transparency in public life.

This brings us to the third “quick fix”: the Public Protector has made very clear, bold recommendations about improving the ethics regime among elected representatives. The president did not lead by example and appears to have a tangled web of interests.

Parliament should not allow the Public Protector’s recommendations to gather dust. Acting on them would be adding another link to the accountability chain and provide us with some crucial detail regarding precisely who funds the president’s lifestyle as well as that of his extended family.

Judith February is the manager of the Institute for a Democratic South Africa’s (Idasa’s) political information and monitoring service

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