Democratic Alliance Chief Whip John Steenhuisen argued that the committee’s brief, as proposed by the ANC, should be extended to expressly include the reports of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and the Special Investigating Unit, lest they be swept under the carpet.
“You are leaving the door open for these reports to simply be ignored and that is problematic. It behoves us as MPs to give South Africans the answers they are looking for so we can close this chapter,” he said.
But the ruling party easily defeated Steenhuisen’s proposed amendment to the terms of reference after Speaker Baleka Mbete reluctantly allowed a vote, warning the DA it would not succeed and accusing it of not trusting MPs.
“Let’s go ahead and let the ad hoc committee do its job,” she said.
Steenhuisen retorted: “It is not the members of this House, it is Luthuli House we don’t trust.”
African National Congress Chief Whip Stone Sizani had rejected the DA’s proposal as superfluous, stating that parliamentary rule 138 allowed a wide reading of the terms of reference of the committee, and as such there was no cause to fear that the relevant reports would be excluded.
Economic Freedom Fighters Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu and Themba Godi from the African People’s Convention accepted the assurances of a wide interpretation, but the rest of the opposition parties backed the DA’s position.
Finally, 104 MPs voted for the DA’s proposal and 196 against. Nine abstained.
Earlier on Tuesday, Madonsela trod carefully when questioned about Zuma’s letter to Parliament last week. In it he stated he was not commenting on her damning findings on the Nkandla project, but that his silence should not be construed as tacit agreement.
Madonsela said she believed it was now up to Parliament to pursue the matter.
“The next part actually is for Parliament to evaluate, not me,” Madonsela said on the sidelines of a justice portfolio committee meeting in the legislature.
In her report, titled “Secure in Comfort” Madonsela found Zuma had benefited unduly from improvements to the tune of R246 million at his private Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal and should repay a portion of the state money spent.
“If he is not commenting, the status remains unresolved. To the extent that there is no comment in there, we don’t know what happens to the findings.
“It is a document that leaves issues open and we don’t know now,” Madonsela added, trailing off.
Madonsela declined to say whether she was satisfied with Zuma’s correspondence, saying: “It is not for me to be satisfied, really it is not my place.”
She added that she saw her role, as a “quasi-judicial body”, as being to assist the president and Parliament, whom she said acted respectively as the custodian and the executor of the Executive Members’ Ethics Act.
In April, Zuma declined to respond in full to Madonsela’s report within the requisite fortnight.
Madonsela had found he had violated the Executive Ethics Code by failing to act in a manner that protected state resources, and that this was inconsistent with his position.
Zuma’s eventual blanket response to the three investigations cautioned that it should not be read as a critique of their findings, but that his decision not to comment on them “is not reflective of the fact that I am accepting of the same”.
Madonsela summed this up by saying, “he did not confirm or deny”.
Zuma deferred a decision on whether he should repay any of the money spent at Nkandla to Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, instructing him to report to Cabinet on the matter.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said the ad hoc committee was doomed to fail to deal with the matter properly because it was restricted to Zuma’s reply.
“This reply was completely inadequate. It failed to provide a comprehensive response to the public protector’s report, nor provided detailed steps on how the president intended to act on her recommendations.
“As such, this committee is predestined to fail.”
The DA believed Zuma should be called before the ad hoc committee but seemed likely to be overruled by the ANC.
Former speaker Max Sisulu set up an ad hoc committee on Nkandla in the dying days of the fourth Parliament, where the party argued this point, but the majority ruled it had too little time to do its job before the elections, in which Nkandla had become a key campaign issue.