Johannesburg - The government has finally admitted that it spent R206 million of public funds on security and “operational requirements” at President Jacob Zuma’s private Nkandla residence, including more than R71m on security.
But Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Sunday this spending was “justifiable”, despite an investigation uncovering a range of irregularities that could have inflated the price by millions.
At a briefing promptly labelled by the DA as “a whitewash”, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi reported back on the probe by the in-house task team he appointed in November to investigate allegations that the state had spent nearly a quarter-of-a-billion rand on Nkandla.
He was flanked by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Mthethwa.
Beyond the R206m for security and the “operational requirements”, no public funds were spent on Nkandla, Nxesi said.
“The report will not be made available to the public,” he added, citing security issues.
Zuma’s Nkandla home was listed under the National Key Points Act in April 2010, which protects disclosure, nearly a year after he came into office.
Instead, the report would be forwarded to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the auditor-general and the SAPS to probe “any possible acts of criminality” in irregularities uncovered.
This is likely to spark a fresh row, with DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko saying on Sunday she would fight to have the report put before Parliament “to be fully scrutinised and debated”.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and Auditor-General Terence Nombembe are busy with their own investigations, which Mazibuko said she hoped would “independently shed light on the many unanswered questions”.
Mazibuko expressed shock at the lack of “willingness on the part of the government to admit that spending this amount on one man’s home is ethically and lawfully wrong”.
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.
“It is very clear that there were a number of irregularities with regard to the appointment of service providers and procurement of goods and services,” he said.
This included the price variations “way beyond” the permissible 20 percent limit, and a total bill of R48m paid to consultants.
The possibility of the government being charged inflated prices by consultants comes against the shock report by the auditor-general last week that as much as R102 billion had been spent on their fees by national and provincial departments over the past three financial years.
Nxesi said department officials would face “immediate” disciplinary action where procedures had been flouted, and unethical consultants would be reported to their professional bodies.
Radebe said law enforcement agencies would be tracking down all the officials implicated in the irregularities to hold them accountable.
Supply-chain management policy and prescripts “were not fully complied with in procurement of goods and services in the project”. The Treasury allows for a maximum 20 percent variation on an initial order.
KwaZulu-Natal Public Works officials appear to have been given carte blanche in negotiating contracts.
“The investigation revealed that an approval was granted to the regional bid evaluation committee to adopt a negotiated and nomination procedure in appointing contractors despite this being a national project,” Nxesi said, adding that their powers would be urgently reviewed.
Zuma’s lack of awareness of the work being done and the amounts involved were repeatedly emphasised by all four cabinet ministers.
“The money that was spent by the state was for these security upgrades.
“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.
Cwele stressed that Zuma did not sign off on the upgrades determined by an assessment and implemented by Public Works.
Nxesi said Zuma and his family upgraded their residence in 2008 and were not involved in the “design or implementation” of security measures or in determining the needs of state departments involved, such as the SANDF and police.
He blamed inflation for the cost of the Nkandla security upgrade amounting to more than the costs for those carried out on former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s private homes.
None of the ministers directly answered the question whether they believed R206m was a reasonable sum to spend on upgrading a single residence, or whether an apology was due to the public.
“I am not sure what public apology you are talking about, being accountable is to say how we have spent the money,” said Nxesi. “We are accountable, we are opening up, we are going beyond the normal practice when it comes to the issue of secrecy.”
Nxesi’s legal adviser, Phillip Masilo, said the R135 208 022 operational needs included the helipad, houses for the SAPS and defence force members, and the clinic.
But Masilo could not be drawn into elaborating what exactly were the other operational issues.
“I can’t do that… We can’t report on certain things. That will compromise security.”
How much it cost
Project initiated: 2009
Initial costs: R6.4 million
Later: Top-secret document revealed in mid-2012
Updated Public Works presentation in 2012
2012 September reports
Later in 2012, new Public Works document reveals
Latest figures according to Minister Nxesi: January 2013
Other features of project