Zuma tiptoes around arms deal investigation

President Jacob Zuma could not commit to making public the outcome of the investigation into the controversial arms deal.

Responding to questions in the National Assembly on Thursday, Zuma said he would be guided by the recommendations of the commission of inquiry, which he set up in September last year to investigate the deal.

Leader of the Democratic Alliance in Parliament, Lindiwe Mazibuko asked Zuma whether he intended to release the full and unexpurgated final report to be produced by the commission and whether steps would be taken against the persons that may be implicated in the report.

Zuma said, “When I announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the strategic defence procurement package in September 2011, I reiterated the importance of dealing decisively with a matter which is no doubt of public interest.

“Consistent with this announcement, I will, on receipt of the commission’s final report deal with the said report in a manner which acknowledges both the public interest as well as the principles to which I’m enjoined to constitutionally give effect to.”

He said would not predict or prejudge the future out of respect for the commission. “I will be guided by the recommendation of the report including whether it should be made public or not. To do otherwise will unfairly prescribe to the commission the manner in which its recommendations should be framed.”

Unfair question
The president argued it was unfair to ask him this question when the commission had not even started its work.

“If members could wait until the report is made and there are clear recommendations made by the commission, then you ask at the point, what are you going to do with the report, I think then the question will be very legitimate.

“I don’t see any logic to say if this happened, what then will you do.”

Mazibuko urged Zuma to make the report public “within a reasonable timeframe” of receiving it, otherwise it would cast further doubt on the government’s commitment to expose corruption.

“There is a great deal of public concern about the fact that this report will not be made public because it might implicate some senior members of government, even senior members of your own Cabinet.

“I honestly believe that if you think the public interest and the principles to which you are enjoined are the issue at heart, then you have to commit to this House that you will release the report and you will make it public within a reasonable timeframe, say three months of it being tabled to you, in order to give the public the assurance that this government will not tolerate corruption within its senior ranks,” said Mazibuko.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Zuma could keep the arms deal inquiry’s final report secret, and the inquiry chairperson could restrict information access.

An earlier report by Independent Newspapers said the inquiry regulations which Zuma signed into law doesn’t close the inquiry to the public but does make restrictions possible.

It said the regulations are in terms of the Commissions Act of 1947, which orders that evidence be heard in public unless the chairperson decides otherwise.

Constitutional amendment
Zuma again defended the government’s decision to assess how Constitutional Court rulings have impacted on the law.

He was responding to Koos van der Merwe of the Inkatha Freedom Party, who wanted to know whether he envisaged a constitutional amendment to amend the power of the Constitutional Court.

Zuma said he was a bit surprised by the concerns that had been raised regarding amendments to the Constitution.

The Constitution was a “living document”, meant to be reviewed annually by a committee of Parliament, he said.

The Constitution had already been amended 16 times since it was adopted in 1996 and it was a “perfectly normal exercise”.

“We have alluded to the fact that the kind of assessment we are to embark upon is not unusual.
For example, universities and research institutions undertake research at times to evaluate the impact of jurisprudence on the lives of people,” he said.

This year marks 17 years of constitutional democracy and the 15th anniversary of the Constitution.

It was an opportune time to review the capacity of the three branches of the state in carrying out their respective constitutional mandates and how their efforts had contributed to the establishment of a truly free, equal, non-racial, non-sexist, and prosperous society.

‘Transparent manner’
“Continuous assessments, done in an open and transparent manner cannot possibly do any harm, especially given the legacy of colonial oppression and apartheid that we must eradicate.”

Asked by Van der Merwe whether the ANC was planning to take South Africa back to a situation in which Parliament was supreme, instead of the Constitutional Court, Zuma said the three arms of government had very clear and distinct functions and those had to be respected.

Parliament legislated and conducted oversight, but did not interpret the laws, he said. That was the duty of the judiciary. And the executive ran the country. “We are not imposing or trying to change the Constitution. We are doing our duty. All we are saying is that in the process of governance we have got to come to a point where you say, let us relook at this, is it moving properly?

“We are not intending to sit every day to change the Constitution. Not at all. We would have done so if we wanted to. We have got enough majority to do so. Absolutely,” Zuma said.

In any event, there was already a constitutional amendment before Parliament which amended the powers of the Constitutional Court.

The Constitution 17th Amendment Bill was introduced last year and, far from limiting the powers of the Constitutional Court, the Bill in fact extended its jurisdiction.

One of the provisions of the Bill concerned which cases could be taken on appeal from the Supreme Court of Appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Amendment
At the moment, the Constitutional Court could consider appeals from the Supreme Court of Appeal that were constitutional matters, as well as issues connected with decisions on constitutional matters.

The amendment would allow the Constitutional Court to consider any appeal on the grounds that the interests of justice required that the matter be decided by the Constitutional Court.

“I am informed that deliberations on the Bill are proceeding well in the justice and constitutional development portfolio committee, and that all parties are approaching the discussions with a view to arriving at the best conclusion for the administration of justice in our country,” said Zuma.

Zuma also killed any notion of the death penalty being re-introduced.

Zuma was asked whether he would consider establishing a judicial commission to probe whether giving the high courts the freedom, after due legal process, to impose the death penalty for murder.

A clearly surprised Zuma responded: “Did I hear the honourable member [say] the freedom to sentence people to death? Is that what he’s saying? I don’t think I’ll take a decision and establish a judicial commission of inquiry on that issue. I will not.

“This is a decision that was taken by the Constitutional Court. And it is left like that, I won’t do it. Absolutely, very clear,” he said.—Additional reporting by Sapa

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