January 23, 2018 / 4:14 PM / 4 months ago

South African graft inquiry stalled as it awaits terms from Zuma - justice

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s judiciary is unable to start an inquiry into alleged corruption because President Jacob Zuma is yet to provide terms of reference, the enquiry’s head said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: President of South Africa Jacob Zuma gestures during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

The two-week delay is fresh evidence that Zuma wants to stall the investigation, said the opposition Democratic Alliance, which has previously accused Zuma of corruption.

Zuma established the inquiry into charges by the opposition, civil society and members of the ruling party that individuals including business associates of Zuma unduly influenced state tenders and cabinet appointments. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo was chosen on Jan. 9 to lead it.

“The commission is still waiting for the terms of reference to be finalised. The presidency is working on them,” Zondo told reporters. “I have no doubt that is being attended to with the urgency that it requires.”

Zuma tried to block the inquiry but a high court last month ordered him to establish one.

The presidency did not respond to a request for comment.

Zuma’s supporters say any investigation should cover the undue influence all private business has over government, with a focus on firms owned by white South Africans who have dominated the economy for decades.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) said on Monday it is in the process of deciding whether to cut short Zuma’s tenure as head of state. Zuma took power in 2009 but is due to step down after elections next year.

Zuma’s power has waned since Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa succeeded him as ANC leader last month, putting him in pole position to become national leader at elections next year and shifting attention to the succession.

Ramaphosa has made it a priority to fight government corruption, accusations of which have marked Zuma’s tenure.

In 2016, the public protector, a constitutionally-mandated anti-graft body, recommended a judicial inquiry be established to further probe her findings about the undue influence the Gupta family wielded over Zuma and his government.

There is a fierce debate among politicians and the South African public over what the long-awaited inquiry should cover.

Zuma’s opponents say it must focus on the role of his friends, the Gupta brothers, who own several companies that have large contracts with state-owned companies.

The opposition says Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta secured senior cabinet positions for politicians in Zuma’s government and paid kickbacks to win contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Zuma announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry at a time when he was under pressure but ... he has little intention of following through,” Democratic Alliance Federal Council Chairperson James Selfe said in a statement

“His (Zondo) press conference was little more than a cry for help, letting South Africa know that the Judiciary’s hands are tied,” Selfe said.

Zuma and the Guptas deny wrongdoing and say they are victims of a witch hunt.

Editing by Joe Brock and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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