Editorial: Public protector undermined

 Just going on the tour made the opposition parties complicit in helping to undermine a chapter nine institution. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Just going on the tour made the opposition parties complicit in helping to undermine a chapter nine institution. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

MPs, at least those from opposition parties, should have known better. By participating in the “inspection” of the “security upgrades” at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead this week, they were legitimising the ongoing attempts to undermine public protector Thuli Madonsela.

They went as members of the parliamentary committee considering Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s report on Nkandla, itself a response to the public protector’s report – and intended to contradict it by showing that Zuma didn’t have to pay anything towards the “security upgrades” at his home.

It was to be expected that the ANC MPs on the committee would toe the party line, but there was no need for the Democratic Alliance, Agang SA, the African Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Front Plus to be part of the farce. The Economic Freedom Fighters and the Congress of the People were correct in refusing to participate in the visit, so as not to legitimise what was already the ANC’s position on the matter.

The opposition MPs who went to Nkandla were there to gawk and grandstand, to score political points. By participating, the opposition is in danger of losing the moral high ground on the issue and has given the process a veneer of respectability. Just going on the tour made them complicit in helping to undermine a chapter nine institution.

The public protector has spoken on the matter of Nkandla. All the rest is an attempt to weasel out of following her recommendations. In terms of the Constitution and the Executive Members’ Ethics Act, it is Zuma, not Nhleko or the National Assembly, who is legally responsible for implementing the remedial action imposed by Madonsela.

Citing a recent high court case on the powers of the public protector, legal academic Pierre de Vos notes that only the president can make a legally valid decision not to obey the remedial action imposed on him – and then only if the president acts rationally, on the basis of cogent reasons. If the president fails to do so, it’s up to the National Assembly to hold him to account.

It’s time for the president to do the right thing: pay back some of the money and let South Africa move on. Only then will citizens be secure in comfort that nobody is more equal than another, that the executive is accountable and that the rule of law is paramount in a democratic South Africa.

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