19 March 2014

South Africa: President Zuma Ordered to Pay Back Money for 'Unlawful' Home Renovations

South African President Jacob Zuma has benefited "unduly" from a state-funded upgrade to his private home. A corruption lawyer has called on Zuma to pay back part of the money he used to fund the renovations.

Just six weeks out from South Africa's general election, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, corruption watchdog lawyer, said Wednesday that President Zuma should pay back some of the more than $23 million (165.4 million euros) used to fund upgrades to his rural Nkandla homestead.

In a 444-page report of her two-year probe, Madonsela accused Zuma of conduct "inconsistent with his office," adding that the country's president had inappropriately benefited from state coffers."

"Some of these measures can be legitimately classified as unlawful and the acts involved constitute improper conduct and maladministration," Madonsela said.

The report, titled "Secure in Comfort" - which also implicated several other government ministers - stated Zuma violated the executive ethics code by neglecting to protect state money.

Madonsela said Zuma needed to pay for some of the unnecessary renovations which are said to include a chicken run and a swimming pool which the president justified as much needed fire-fighting equipment.

The lawyer called on Zuma to pay "a reasonable percentage" of the cost for renovations not related to security at his home. The exact figure, however, was not disclosed and Mandonsela said it would be up to the country's Treasury to determine a final sum.

Madonsela was critical of the government, saying it had taken Zuma nine months to respond to her inquiries for the report.

"There is nothing political about the report, all I have done as the ombudsman is to discharge my responsibility. And I have done that."

In light of what the opposition call "damning findings," the Democratic Alliance said it would urgently initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, a move likely to be blocked by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Presidential officials said in a statement that Zuma had been "consistently concerned about the allegations of impropriety" that have surfaced since the renovations. He would study the report, his office said, and give his response "in due course."

Critics of the government have said the exorbitant spending is an example of alleged government corruption, which will likely be a campaign issue in the lead up to national elections on May 7.

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