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When the allegation that President had failed to declare his interests in terms of the law first surfaced, the Presidency obfuscated in response, saying: "As Head of State and Government, the President is most mindful of government's commitment to transparent governance and accountability, to which principles he remains committed in leading government." Now that the Public Protector has found that allegation to be fact, the President needs to accept responsibility and apologise for his transgression.
Any violation of the law is no trifling matter and it goes without saying that the Executive Members Ethics Act goes to the heart of good governance; indeed, of what constitutes to ethical behaviour and what does not. If ever there was a case to be made that example needs to be made and a precedent set, it is the President's transgression of that Act.
In order to provide the president an opportunity to apologise, we will be submitting a parliamentary question asking whether he accepts personal responsibility for his failure to declare, and whether he will be willing to make a statement on the matter.
Such an apology would achieve two things: on the one hand, it would do much to bolster the flaying reputation of accountability in South African politics, which is so often paid lip service to but rarely enforced in any meaningful way; on the other hand it is the right thing to do, to acknowledge guilt and accept responsibility. Too often the technicalities that define our various laws and processes are invoked to dilute responsibility - our public representatives hide behind them, in order to avoid the principle at stake.
In this case there are three principles at stake - good leadership, accountability and personal responsibility. Were the President to hide behind technicality, it would be at the expense of these principles and it could easily be argued at the expense of his own reputation too.
Further, the Public Protectors' report reveals that a total of 24 cabinet ministers failed to comply with the same stipulated deadline. This constitutes almost 40% of members of the executive - a frankly remarkable figure, which says a great deal about this administration's real views on transparency and accountability. Again, it is now up to the ANC's leadership to draw a line in the sand, say unequivocally that this is unacceptable, and make it clear that there will be consequences.
In his State of the Nation Address, President Zuma said that 2010 would be the year of "action". Now is the time for the President to be accountable and take action. A public apology for his failure to declare his financial interests is the first step. South Africa's democracy is built on a series of laws and if those are undermined, so too is our constitutional state. Those laws should be embodied, promoted and protected by those people elected to leadership positions.