S. Africa Lawmakers Fail to Hold Zuma to Account, Court Says

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s top court found that parliament failed to hold President Jacob Zuma to account for his role in a scandal involving the misuse of public funds on his private home and ordered it to draft rules governing the circumstances under which he could be removed from office.

“The assembly did not hold the president to account as was required,” the Constitutional Court said in a majority ruling read by Judge Chris Jafta at a hearing in Johannesburg on Friday. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng disagreed with the judgment, describing it as “a textbook case of judicial overreach.”

S. Africa Lawmakers Fail to Hold Zuma to Account, Court Says

Former graft ombudsman Thuli Madonsela found in 2014 that Zuma unduly benefited from a taxpayer-funded 215.9 million-rand ($17 million) upgrade of his private home and ordered him to pay back part of the money. The governing African National Congress tried to use its majority in Parliament to shield Zuma from liability, but the Constitutional Court ruled last year that he’d violated his oath of office by failing to comply with Madonsela’s directive and ordered the Treasury to determine how much he owed.

While Zuma complied with the Treasury’s instruction to repay 7.81 million rand and apologized, three opposition parties -- the Economic Freedom Fighters, United Democratic Movement and Congress of the People -- argued that Parliament remained in violation of its constitutional obligation to hold him to account and filed a lawsuit aimed at compelling it to rectify the matter. Zuma and Parliament were ordered to pay the costs of the application.

Section 89 of South Africa’s constitution enables the National Assembly to remove the president with the backing of at least two-thirds of lawmakers if he seriously violates the law, is guilty of serious misconduct or lacks the ability to perform his functions. It doesn’t spell out the misdemeanors that would warrant firing him -- a shortfall the court said must be addressed within 120 days.

Parliament has started a process to outline a procedure to implement section 89 and will finalized these rules in line with the court’s order, it said in an emailed statement.

Zuma, a former intelligence operative who’s ruled Africa’s most-industrialized economy since May 2009, has been implicated in a succession of other scandals and the new probe will add to pressure on him to step down before the end of his second and final term in 2019. His deputy Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him as ANC leader in December, making him the front-runner to become the nation’s next president.

“This just adds to the existing pressures that Jacob Zuma is already laboring under,’’ Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy said by phone in Cape Town. “This is really now Ramaphosa’s first real test to see if he can navigate a course for an earlier exit for Zuma with as limited a fallout as possible for the ANC.’’

The ANC will study the judgment and discuss its implications when its National Executive Committee meets on Jan. 10, it said in an emailed statement.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.