Witnesses may face jail time for evading questions at state capture inquiry
New rules could make Jacob Zuma’s testimony more challenging before Zondo commission
New rules governing the workings of the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture could make former president Jacob Zuma’s testimony more challenging should he be summonsed to appear before it.
Witnesses appearing before the commission chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo could face legal consequences should they circumvent questions and obstruct Zondo and other members of the commission.
Witnesses who fail to comply with the changes to the regulations of the commission, which were published in the government gazette on Friday, could be subjected to a fine or imprisonment of up to 12 months.
The executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, Lawson Naidoo, said “given that time is running out for the commission, in the context that it has applied for an extension until the end of the year, a lot of time has been used up with witnesses evading questions and having to be called back to the commission”.
“These amendments are being instituted to try to fast-track the process of the work of the commission to ensure that the witnesses who come before the commission answer the questions that it has for them and to try to expedite the process of the gathering of information,” Naidoo said.
The amendments coincide with a statement from the commission that its legal team plans to subpoena Zuma to return to the commission in less than three weeks, to complete his testimony.
“On Tuesday, January 14, the chairperson will hear an application that will be moved by the commission’s legal team for an order authorising the acting secretary of the commission to issue a summons for the former president, Mr Jacob Zuma, to appear before the commission on the 27th up to the 31st of January 2020,” the commission said.
The former president failed to appear before the commission in November after his legal team said he was too ill. The inquiry signalled that it could use its subpoena powers to compel witnesses to take the stand.
“The application is probably based on the fact that the former president has not been forthcoming in terms of the commission’s request for him to return. Which is a promise that he made the last time that he gave evidence but he now seems to be evading that responsibility,” Naidoo said.
The Zondo commission is waiting for the former president to address about 80 “areas of interest” which include his controversial relations with the Gupta family, details on the nuclear build project and the axing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister as well as the short-lived appointment of Des van Rooyen as Nene’s successor.
During his testimony which began in July, Zuma accused the inquiry of treating him as a criminal and not a witness and that the commission had brought him there “under false pretence”.