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Presidency: There’s no conflict of interest here

President Jacob Zuma does not hold any personal or financial interest, in any business or corporate entity, his spokesperson Mac Maharaj said on Monday.

“He makes his annual declaration of interests to the secretary of Cabinet. The declaration is designed to ensure that a conflict of interest does not arise in the performance of his executive office,” Maharaj said in a statement.

He was reacting to the Democratic Alliance’s call on Monday for a law change to ensure scrutiny of government business deals involving family members of the president.

DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip said it was necessary because the number of Zuma’s family members benefiting from “mega tenders” without proper procurement procedures, or having the necessary experience, was hampering service delivery.

“Many people linked to the president are securing contracts, but are too inexperienced to deliver. The lack of experience ultimately undermines service delivery,” Trollip told reporters.

‘No malicious intent’
Trollip singled out a controversial recommendation that the Billion Group — linked to Zuma’s son-in-law Lonwabo Sambudla — be awarded a R1-billion contract from the department of public service and administration.

He said the department had put the tender to build a new headquarters on hold because of a lack of funding, but the minister pushed for the deal to go ahead regardless.

Maharaj said the presidency trusted that there was “no malicious intent or political grandstanding in calling for such a debate”.

“The financial interest that the president must disclose, relates directly to the president, as well as to spouses and dependants. He does not declare assets or interests that belong to persons other than spouses and dependants,” Maharaj said.

“The properties and assets of adult children are likewise not declared and are not the President’s responsibility or liability.”

Prejudices
Trollip said reports indicated that both Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi and a senior adviser to Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, pushed for the deal to go ahead, despite advice from public service department staff and the national treasury that the DPSA could not afford the new premises.

“In addition, Mr Sambudla was reportedly personally involved in lobbying for the Billion Group to be awarded the contract.”

Trollip said the take-over of the Pamodzi mines by industry newcomer Aurora, of which Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse Zuma is a director, resulted in nothing but asset stripping and the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Favouring Zuma’s family members had not only proved unsound business, but was also “prejudicing the rights of other individuals” to compete for contracts.

He said the DA would table a private members’ Bill proposing the Executive Members Ethics Act be amended to ensure the Auditor General scrutinises deals involving the president’s relatives.

Conflict of interest
In addition, the proposal calls for proper publicising of the public part of the president’s financial disclosure — which can at the moment only be seen by appointment at Tuynhuys — and for the Public Protector to oversee his declaration of interests and gifts.

“Currently, the president is asked to adjudicate his own interests, and that is in itself a conflict of interest.”

Trollip was at pains to point out the proposal was not an attack on Zuma or his family.

“This is about good governance, not about taking revenge on anybody. As the opposition we must make sure that proper tender process is observed. We will ask all the uncomfortable questions.”

He reiterated a call for parliamentary oversight of the presidency, and said though initially the African National Congress had been amenable to the idea, all steps in that direction had been halted.

No answer
The DA had repeatedly said it was untenable that the presidency, which incorporated two ministries and the National Youth Development Agency, had no direct parliamentary oversight.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe indicated in reply to a question that the ANC would not be averse to changing this.

A meeting was called to set up a portfolio committee for the presidency last year, but was cancelled. The chief whip’s office subsequently indicated the matter would not be pursued.

“It was stillborn,” Trollip said.

He said he had also raised the issue with Zuma in person, but never received a direct answer. — Sapa

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