The state will fund former president Jacob Zuma’s legal fees, but if he loses in court he will have to pay back the money.
This was President Cyril Ramaphosa’s response to the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance who questioned him regarding his predecessor’s legal fees.
During his first question and answer session in the National Assembly last week, Ramaphosa was asked by EFF leader Julius Malema: “Which law is the ANC ascribing to in covering Zuma’s legal fees?”
Ramaphosa replied that he did not have that information but would get back to him soon.
In a written reply on Thursday, Ramaphosa said he “was informed that the state attorney, as the time of considering the request made by president Zuma for legal representation at state expense, considered section 3 (3) of the State Attorney Act, 1957 (as amended) to give her discretion”.
Together with the department of justice, the state attorney decided to grant Zuma’s request “subject to the condition that he make an undertaking (which he did) to refund money thus spent should it be found that he acted in his personal capacity and own interest in the commission of the alleged offences”.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane, in Parliament, also demanded that Ramaphosa commit to stopping all government contributions towards Zuma’s legal fees with immediate effect and join in the DA’s legal action that sought to have Zuma pay back all the money the state had spent on his legal fees.
The DA and its lawyers then asked the Presidency for information on the provision of legal representation by the state to Zuma.
Ramaphosa responded that a decision was taken in 2006 by the Presidency after Zuma had made his request for legal representation.
“The decision was based on advice from the then chief state law adviser, director-general in the department of justice, the minister of justice and the state attorney, who all recommended the provision of legal representation at state expense under section 3 of the State Attorney Act.”
However, the Presidency did admit it was unable to locate a written agreement that Zuma would pay back the money if he was unsuccessful.
However, the statement said that “the Presidency does have copies of undertakings signed by Mr Zuma on 22 August 2006 and 26 September 2008.”
Whether the agreements were written down or not, does Ramaphosa not have the power to rescind them?
The answer was no, according to the Presidency.
“Due to the fact that the presidents who came after the undertaking was signed are the successor in title in the president’s office, they assume the obligation created in the undertaking. The Presidency is therefore bound by that decision and must continue paying for Mr Zuma’s legal fees on the basis that it undertook to do so until such time as the decision is reviewed and set aside by a court.”