If you were hoping the Department of Public Works task team on the upgrades to President Zuma’s Nkandla residence would shed some light on who’s responsible for the R206 million spend, don’t hold your breath. The president’s house is a national key point so his allies can “justifiably” say releasing the juicy details of the report might compromise national security. By GREG NICOLSON.
Speaking on Monday, the Democratic Alliance said National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu indicated the report would be tabled in Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence. DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said in a statement that by submitting the report to the joint standing committee on intelligence those who should be held accountable for the R206 million upgrade to the president’s private home could escape being held accountable.
In Sisulu’s letter to the party, which the DA published, the speaker says he received legal advice that some aspects of the report must be referred to the intelligence committee, which may then refer other matters to appropriate committees.
Mazibuko said that because the report deals with a national key point almost all of the information could be kept secret. “The DA is strongly opposed to this decision which will essentially bury the information in the report and will prevent those at the very top from being held accountable.”
The joint standing committee on intelligence is predominantly made up of ANC members but includes representatives from the DA, IFP, COPE and UDM. Members take an oath of secrecy and the meetings are closed when considering matters of national security or classified information.
Mazibuko will ask Sisulu to reveal the legal opinion that informed his decision. The DA wants the report to go before the committees on public works, defence and police. “Should this not happen, we will consider the process to be fundamentally flawed and a backdoor mechanism to hide the contents of this report from South Africans in order to protect President Jacob Zuma from being held to account,” said Mazibuko.
ANC parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mathapo told Daily Maverick the DA was acting as an “irresponsible” opposition trying to make headlines. Mathapo had not heard of Sisulu’s letter but said it was in line with earlier comments in Parliament regarding the report advising it “be considered with the utmost sensitivity”. The document must be treated with sensitivity, he said, because it deals with the head of state and might make serious allegations against individuals who are yet to face court.
Defending the decision to submit the report to the intelligence committee he referred to section 69 of the Constitution: “The National Assembly may not exclude the public, including the media, from a sitting of a committee unless it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society.” He also referred to the National Assembly rules which allow a committee or subcommittee to exclude the public when a matter is prejudicial to a particular person.
Suggestions the ANC are trying to protect those responsible for the spending on Zuma’s home are “complete rubbish”, said Mathapo. “The committee this will be subjected to is a multiparty committee where all parties are represented… If there’s any attempt to hide corruption [the DA] will be there to see it.”
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi summarised findings on the issue in January this year. The inquiry’s terms of reference included establishing if Zuma’s residence was declared a national key point, what official recommendations had been made regarding security at Nkandla, and whether the upgrade followed the proper procurement laws.
Nxesi said Nkandla was declared a national key point in April 2010 by which time Zuma had already started renovating his home, including new constructions. Security assessments recommended including a physical security system, an evacuation mechanism, fire-fighting capabilities, and other operational needs including medical facilities and accommodation.
“There is no evidence that public money was spent to build the private residence of the president or that any house belonging to the president was built with public money,” said Nxesi. By January the state had paid over R206 million on the project. The minister didn’t go into detail but said procurement procedures had been flouted. “It is very clear that there were a number of irregularities with regards to appointment of service providers and procurement of goods and services.”
Nxesi said the report would be sent to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), Auditor General (AG), and SAPS to investigate the possible criminal charges while government would discipline any officials found to have flouted procurement procedures.
It’s looking less likely that we’ll see the results of those investigations. Eye Witness News reported on Monday that the SIU is yet to start its investigation into Nkandla. It has been over three months since Nxesi referred information on the procurement irregularities to the investigative unit. The SIU is yet to receive an official proclamation from the president to begin the investigation.
The Public Protector’s office has stated Thuli Madonsela is getting close to finishing her report on Nkandla but her team has been held up waiting for information from unidentified government departments.
Commenting on the Public Works report, Right2Know’s Murray Hunter acknowledged the need for the intelligence committee to have closed sessions but raised questions about its accountability. “It is a committee that is supposed to ensure that national security is being upheld, and to prevent abuses of power among those who are meant to uphold it – yet the committee itself operates behind a veil of secrecy. There is so little information flowing from this body that it is hardly ever possible to know whether it is doing its oversight job or not,” Murray wrote on email.
“The fact that access to the report is even a question is an example of the toxic effect that outdated laws like the National Key Points Act have on our public life; at best, with its broad, draconian clauses it is obstructing access to information. At worst, its sheer vagueness and pervasiveness have created this creeping culture of secrecy, where officials and even parliamentarians are simply afraid to fulfill the public’s right to know.”
Writing on his blog, Constitutionally Speaking, in March, constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said the National Key Points Act couldn’t be used to hide the Public Works investigation. “There is nothing in the National Key Points Act that prohibits Parliament from discussing details of the amounts of public money spent on the private palace of the president – whether that palace was declared a national key point or not,” wrote De Vos. If the report deals with security specifics that could endanger the president, he argued, that information could be made in camera while the rest of the report must be publically tabled as per the rules on openness and transparency.
That’s what’s supposed to happen, anyway. But whether the details on who is responsible for the exorbitant spending at Nkandla emerge after the joint standing committee on intelligence takes a look at the report remains to be seen. If the information gets buried, it’s unlikely you’ll ever know. DM
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