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Battle royale over Zuma’s legal fees ensues

President Jacob Zuma told the House he was entitled by law to have the state pick up the bill for defending legal action.

FILE: President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

CAPE TOWN/JOHANNESBURG - President Jacob Zuma’s failure to answer how much money has been spent on his legal fees since charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering against him were dropped has sparked a battle royale in Parliament and a walkout by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

Zuma told the House he was entitled by law to have the state pick up the bill for defending legal action that was launched by the party.

But he did not spell out the amount incurred by the Presidency over the eight years of litigation since the decision, which the courts have since ruled was irrational.

The drama started when DA leader Mmusi Maimane said he couldn’t ask a follow up because the president hadn’t answered the question.

“I am answering the question because the answer gives an impression I am running to courts and spending a lot of money – I’m saying I have been defending what the political party [DA] has been doing in terms of taking me to court,” Zuma explained.

DA appeals to Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli to get Zuma to give a figure for his legal costs went nowhere and tempers frayed.

Zuma said: “I’ve answered the question, if the honourable member is not satisfied, I’ve answered the question.”

Maimane added that: “Deputy speaker, this is completely unacceptable. He has not answered the question… I’ll say this one thing: he may be in government now, but he is going to jail. I can assure you he is going to jail. The president is going to jail…”

After further furious clashes with the Deputy Speaker, DA MPs walked out en masse.

The president was accused of not giving an exact amount or being clear on what money has been spent.

Instead, he gave a short answer, explaining that all members of the executive are entitled to a legal defence if challenged in court.

“This benefit is extended to all who are employed in the service of the state. Thank you very much.”

Zuma later told the house he did not know how much the State had paid out on his legal costs and had not asked.

He told the remaining MPs in the House that the question was part of a political game being played.

WATCH: President Zuma answers questions in Parliament

‘EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK TO AVOID ACCOUNTABILITY’

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) says Zuma is using every trick in the book to avoid being held accountable for his alleged involvement in state capture.

Earlier on Thursday, Zuma has denied receiving any payments from private companies or individuals during his Presidency following allegations in a new book by Jacques Pauw that claims Zuma received R1 million per month for a year without declaring it to Sars.

The president's lawyers also filed responding papers this week which state that Zuma will appoint a commission of inquiry into state capture if part of Thuli Madonsela's report is set aside.

Zuma has committed to appointing a commission of inquiry within 30 days if the High Court sets aside Madonsela's recommendations.

This means he wants to appoint his own commission and exclude his alleged wrongdoing from the scope of the investigation, saying instead, the new Public Protector should investigate him.

Casac's Lawson Naidoo says Zuma is again avoiding transparency and accountability.

“Despite all the allegations of corruption, maladministration and state capture, the lack of governance under the Zuma administration is alarming.”

A warning from Zuma to those calling for a commission of inquiry: “There are people and there are who have come to say corruption started long before 1994 on the wealth of the state, the properties of the state – so those that are calling for it are going to regret.”

A question mark over Parliament’s state capture inquiries once the commission starts: “It’s always important to remember the separation of powers…”

And the reason why President Zuma hasn’t already launched the inquiry into the allegations.

“I couldn’t establish a commission of the same thing, you can’t. Lawyers say it is a matter that is sub judice, right? [Laughs]”

He has defended his decision not to appoint a commission of inquiry into state capture up until this point, saying two legal processes cannot run at the same time.

“You want me to break the law? While the matter is being handled in court, I establish another parallel process? I wouldn’t do so, that is what has made me wait until there is a judgment.”

Opposition parties have argued that Zuma is at the centre of the state capture allegations and, therefore, cannot be in control of the inquiry that will investigate him.

(Edited by Winnie Theletsane)