The buzzword on everyone’s lips this week is Nkandla. The Department of Public Works neatly announced the findings of its investigation on Sunday, admitting that there were tender irregularities in the procurement of goods and services for the R206-million upgrade, but that the blame for this lay with lower-ranking department officials, and not President Jacob Zuma himself.
The probe’s findings were the work of an in-house task team Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi appointed in November 2012 to investigate claims that hundreds of millions worth of taxpayers’ money was spent on upgrading the president’s private residence in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
Nxesi was backed up at the briefing by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
The announcement that the task team’s report would not be made public, came as no surprise.
Mthethwa said at the briefing that the expenditure was justifiable, despite the internal investigation that revealed “a range of irregularities that could have inflated the price by millions”, IOL reported. This included price variations exceeding the permissible 20% limit and almost R50-million paid to consultants.
“Nxesi said ‘many’ Department of Public Works officials at national and regional level were involved in possible violations of supply chain management procedures and Treasury prescripts,” IOL added.
Offending department officials would face immediate disciplinary action for this, according to Nxesi, while Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said “law enforcement agencies would be tracking down all the officials implicated in the irregularities to hold them accountable,” IOL reported.
These findings would be referred to the Special Investigating Unit, the Auditor General and the police for further investigation, it was announced at the briefing.
Despite all these revelations, all four Cabinet ministers present at the briefing stressed that Zuma had no knowledge of the work being done or the accompanying costs.
“Was the president involved? The answer is no. No money of the state was used for the upgrade of the private residence of the president,” Radebe said.
According to IOL, “Cwele stressed that Zuma did not sign off on the upgrades determined by an assessment and implemented by Public Works.”
He also said inflation was to blame for the Nkandla security upgrade costing more than similar work done for previous president Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s private homes.
In a statement issued shortly after the briefing, the ANC asserted that the Public Works’ report proved Zuma did not use government money to erect any buildings at Nkandla, and that the public funds were only used for security upgrades.
"This report vindicates the President and our belief in the innocence of the President in this regard, on what he consistently said were lies and that he personally built his residence and that the government only built security features that are prescribed in relevant security prescripts," spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said in the statement.
The ANC also said it welcomed the announcement that tender irregularities in the procurement of goods and services for the upgrade would be probed.
On Monday evening, City Press revealed that it was in possession of a letter that proved Sunday’s line-up of Zuma allies wrong. Read the letter here.
The paper first reported on this in late November 2012, saying that there existed a signed letter by then public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde updating Zuma on the multimillion-rand upgrade. Mahlangu-Nkabinde signed the letter on 5 November 2010, four days after she had been appointed by Zuma.
“In her letter to Zuma, Mahlangu-Nkabinde said it was ‘prudent’ to update him on progress on the matter,” City Press reported.
“She then lists several areas paid for by Public Works, including a cattle culvert, guardhouse and tuck shop and the relocation of families whose houses had to be demolished for the project,” it added.
This is not the final word
Daily Maverick reminded readers on Monday that despite government’s slick manoeuvring at the Sunday briefing, “the controversy is far from over”.
“Separate investigations into the Nkandla upgrade by the Auditor-General, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Public Protector are still in progress,” it stated.
Despite the existence of these additional probes and vigorous campaigning by opposition parties, “there will clearly be a concerted effort by government to contain the fallout and get low-ranking officials to shoulder the blame,” it added.
“There has already been a mountain of evidence in the media showing exorbitant and frivolous costs on a private clinic for the Zuma family, a tuck shop and Astroturf for soccer fields, as well as proof that the president was aware of the upgrades.
“Senior officials in government and the ANC know that once these are confirmed by any of the other investigations, it will force a process they cannot control – as was the case in the police building lease saga which led to the axing of the former public works minister and national police commissioner,” the publication warned.