President says he’ll wait for police minister’s finding on Nkandla
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma fought back in parliament yesterday against demands that he repay millions spent on his private Nkandla residence, saying he “never took a penny”.
Against a background of previously chaotic scenes in parliament over the issue, Zuma took head-on the question of when he would “pay back the money” – a now popular chant both inside and outside the National Assembly.
“Never have I thought when I would pay back the money,” Zuma said.
He noted that he did not know how much of the R246-million spent on “security upgrades” at his rural home in KwaZulu-Natal he might be required to repay.
“That needs determination by those authorised to do so,” he said, adding that he had never dodged the question.
Presidential question time continued to be plagued by high drama after it was delayed by more than an hour as MPs squabbled over the rules of parliament and whether unanswered questions can be carried over into another session or not.
Zuma sat impassively as opposition parties objected strongly to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete’s proposal that the issue would be discussed in the programming committee this morning.
Opposition parties, led by the EFF and the DA, demanded that Zuma should start the session by telling the house when he would pay back the money.
But Mbete would have none of that, insisting that the Nkandla matter would not be addressed by Zuma on the list of six questions that he was specifically scheduled to respond to yesterday.
Mbete said the question expired at the end of last year in terms of the rules of the house when parliament went for the Christmas recess.
MPs bickered for more than an hour on the issue but Zuma simply dismissed the question as premature when he eventually addressed the house.
He said he had actually responded to the matter when it was first raised in the August 21 session, before it dissolved into chaos.
A confident but at times emotional Zuma, who at one point ignored Mbete’s order for him to stop speaking while EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi interjected, denied he was deliberately dodging questions from MPs.
Zuma said he had never ignored dates set aside for him to answer questions in parliament, including after the interrupted August 21 session.
He said it was up to parliament to call him to the house to take questions. Earlier, EFF leader Julius Malema had accused Mbete of misleading his party when she told them she was discussing a new date for Zuma to resume the August 21 session.
Mbete cited parliamentary rules that the unanswered questions from that session had been given written replies by the Presidency.
The matter is expected to be discussed at the meeting of the National Assembly’s programming committee this morning.
Malema said her statement was disingenuous as she had raised expectations the questions would be answered.
“It is the presiding officers who are putting the president in a difficult position as you have raised expectations‚” he said.
Zuma said: “The fact that there were questions that were left unanswered is not my responsibility.
“I’ve never refused to come to parliament. You take the decision any time, whether it’s tomorrow or any other day, I will be here.”
Pressed further on Nkandla by EFF MP Natasha Louw, who wanted to know if he had given thought to “targeting your machine to pay back the money”, Zuma said the question was premature.
He said the question should not be entertained until Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and the national Treasury determined how much, if anything, he should repay. “Never ever have I thought on the date when I will pay back the money,” Zuma confidently told parliament.
“Firstly, there is no money that I will be paying back without a determination by those who are authorised to do so as recommended by the public protector.
“Why do you say I should pay back the money and you don’t even know how much, you don’t even know whether the final answer will be that I should pay back the money,” he said to loud clapping and cheering from the ANC side of the chamber. “The question itself is premature.”
Nhleko said he would give his determination at the end of this month.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said Mbete had interpreted the rules correctly.
“But it was the Presidency that revived the questions by answering them late in Februar y.”
Turning to Malema’s question on whether he was deliberately weakening crimefighting institutions such as the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority to prevent the reinstatement of corruption charges that were dropped in April against him, Zuma said the claim was baseless. “The perceptions are unfounded and baseless . . .
“I’ve never interfered with any institution and will never do so.
“Secondly, I have no case against me. The NPA dropped the case not influenced by me [but] of its own accord.”
-Thabo Mokone and Paul Vecchiatto