Lawyers representing President Jacob Zuma urged the high court to halt the release of a report of the nation’s graft ombudsman into allegations that the Gupta family, who are friends with the president, exercised undue influence over the government.
Zuma has argued that he hadn’t been given adequate opportunity to respond to findings made in the public protector’s report and question witnesses. His application is opposed by four political parties including the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters.
“There are procedural requirements that had not been followed by the public protector,” Anthea Platt, Zuma’s lawyer, told the court in Pretoria. She argued that opposition parties couldn’t infringe on Zuma’s rights and weren’t entitled to participate in the case.
The investigation relates to the dismissal and appointment of cabinet ministers and board members and directors of state-owned companies and possibly corrupt influence in the awarding of state contracts and licences to companies linked to members of the Gupta family. It was completed just days before Thuli Madonsela’s seven-year term as graft ombudsman came to an end and she was replaced by Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who didn’t oppose the bid to halt the report’s release.
“What the president has lost sight of is that there is now a final report of the public protector,” DA lawyer Etienne Labuschagne told the court. “There are no procedural rights of the president to be preserved. The only question is whether the report should be released or not and if released the president is free to challenge it on review in due course, but that is not an issue that is urgent.”
Zuma has come under pressure to explain his relationship with the Guptas, who he says are friends and are in business with his son, after current and former government officials claimed the family tried to influence their decisions. Both Zuma and the Guptas deny wrongdoing.
The president’s conduct was a matter of public interest, and the public has the right to know what’s in the report, according to Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, the EFF’s lawyer.
The constitution “makes it clear that once a report of the public protector has been finalised, there’s a duty to publish it,” he told the court. “This is a case that seeks to put a blanket ban on the public protector’s report.”
The release of the report is also being opposed by cooperative governance minister Des van Rooyen and mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
Deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said in March that members of the family offered him the post of finance minister before Nhlanhla Nene was fired from the position and replaced by Van Rooyen, at the time a little-known lawmaker. The move sparked a selloff in the rand and nation’s bonds and led to the reappointment of Pravin Gordhan after business and political leaders intervened.
Zwane said last month that the cabinet had ordered a judicial investigation into banking oversight bodies after the nation’s biggest lenders shut accounts of companies controlled by the Guptas. Zuma’s office denied any such decision had been taken taken and said Zwane was speaking in his personal capacity. — (c) 2016 Bloomberg LP