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Mboweni says no more Zondo funding as court extends commission’s lifespan

The treasury has no further funding to avail to the Zondo commission of inquiry following the Pretoria high court ruling this week that extended the commission’s lifespan by another three months, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said on Wednesday.

“They must finish their work,” Mboweni told journalists, shortly after delivering his 2021 budget.

“I don’t think I am going to sign off on another tranche of cash to the commission … Maybe the department of justice,” he added, before allowing treasury director general Dondo Mogajane to provide further details.

Mogajane suggested a reprioritisation of funds in the cash-strapped department, before the minister weighed in with his view that the Mpati commission, which probed wrongdoing at the Public Investment Corporation, might have covered more ground with less money.

The spokesperson for the Zondo commission, Reverend Mbuyiselo Stemela, said the high court in Pretoria on Tuesday had granted the commission a three-month extension, which would last until the end of June.

“The court handed down a draft order yesterday extending the lifespan of the commission until June,” Stemela told the Mail & Guardian.

The court order handed down in response to an urgent application by commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is not the first for the inquiry, which was initially meant to complete its work within 180 days.

Stemela said it was impossible to say how many more witnesses the commission planned to hear in the coming months, as more people are still being implicated in ongoing evidence.

An earlier extension had granted the commission until the end of March to complete its extensive probe into how rent-seekers robbed the state of billions of rands in successive scandals that mainly played out during the nine-year presidency of former president  Jacob Zuma

The budget set out funding for the financial year starting in April, but makes no provision for the commission.

The high court order may have some bearing on litigation the commission launched on Monday seeking a contempt order and a punitive two-year prison sentence for Zuma after he defied the third summons, made an order of the Constitutional Court, to testify before it all of last week.

Zuma has been implicated 40 times by witnesses in the grand corruption that became a byword for his administration.

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In its court application, the commission left the door open for Zuma still to testify, should the court choose to hand down a sentence suspended on condition that he co-operates with the inquiry. 

In an affidavit attached to the application, commission secretary Itumeleng Mosala said the commission would have to make special arrangements to hear him before March 31 — the date on which the commission’s lifespan was set to expire when it filed court papers on Monday.

The Zondo commission is South Africa’s most expensive judicial commission of inquiry yet: at R800-million and counting. It has spent more than half the amount — R495-million — on investigators and legal teams.

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Although the budget exceeds that of the Investigative Directorate (ID), a presidential proclamation last year allows the commission’s evidence to be shared with the prosecuting service. This has raised hopes that much of its work will culminate in prosecutions. Investigators from the commission will also be seconded to the ID. The total budget for the department of justice for the coming year is R21.5-billion.

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