The Report of the Public Protector on the use of public funds on lavish construction at President Jacob Zuma’s private home near Nkandla found that there was no legal authority for the spending of R246 million on the Nkandla Project. Despite suggestions to the contrary, neither the applicable Cabinet Policy nor the National Key Points Act were complied with by the various state actors involved in the project.
Although the Public Protector (circumspect to a fault) did not make a conclusive finding on this, her Report suggests that those involved in the Nkandla scandal were at first unconcerned about whether they were legally authorised to spend public funds on the construction at President Zuma’s private home.
Because it was the president’s house, the legal niceties seemed to have been of little or no concern to them. It only seemed to have become a concern when they had to account for their actions and when they realised that the president, unsurprisingly, was not going to take responsibility for the project and was not going to protect them against the fall-out from the scandal.
The Report found that most of those involved in the implementation of the Nkandla Project had no knowledge of the relevant legal provisions applicable to the project. Most of them invoked the Ministerial Handbook (which the Public Protector found was not applicable to the project) as legal authority for the project.
Instead, two other legal documents (had they been complied with) would have authorised some (but not all) of the cost of the construction at President Zuma’s private home.
First, the “Cabinet Policy: Security Measures at the Private Residences of the president, Deputy President and former Presidents and Deputy Presidents”, which was approved on 20 August 2003, allows for the spending of public funds on security measures at private properties that are owned and regularly used by the president.
This Policy provides that at the request of the president or the Presidency, the SAPS, together with the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) (now the State Security Agency) must evaluate the security situation of such a property, based on a threat analysis conducted by the NIA.
The SAPS and the NIA then have to formulate a proposal on appropriate security measures that should be put in place by the State after which the Department of Public Works (DPW) has to prepare cost estimates of implementing these measures.
“Thereafter, the SAPS have to advise the Minister of Police on the proposed safety measures, including the cost thereof. Whatever measures are accordingly approved by the Minister of Police shall be communicated to the president for his or her consent. The SAPS then has to submit the measures, as approved by the president to the Minister of Public Works for approval of the structural components.”
However, the Public Protector found that none of these requirements were complied with (apart from two security evaluations that were conducted by the SAPS). There was no indication that the evaluations were conducted jointly with NIA (SSA), casting doubt on the intelligence estimates on which the SAPS recommendations for security upgrades were made.
It is unclear why – if the security of the president and indeed the Republic was at stake – the NIA was not at all involved in the evaluation of the security risk faced by President Zuma at his private home.
Regarding the flouting of the Cabinet Policy, the Public Protector further found that:
“The Minister of Police probably did not inform the president and requested his consent, as he was required to have done in terms of the Policy, because he was not advised accordingly by the SAPS.”
The Public Protector consequently found that the Cabinet Policy was not complied with “and therefore did not constitute legal authority for the expenditure incurred by the DPW in respect of the Nkandla Project”.
The failure to follow the processes outlined in the Cabinet Policy and the deviation from the security measures that were recommended in the security evaluation done by SAPS was thus found to constitute “improper conduct and maladministration”.
Curiously, halfway through the project, on 8 April 2010, the president’s private residence was declared a National Key Point in terms of the National Key Points Act by the Minister of Police.
No finding was made about why the Nkandla residence was declared a National Key Point at this late stage and whether this was done in an attempt to draw a veil of secrecy over the construction project. (Recall that Ministers in the Security Cluster initially refused to answer questions about the project by invoking the National Key Points Act.)
The relevant Declaration Certificate issued by the Minister of Police on 8 April 2010 in terms of the National Key Points Act declaring the president’s private residence at Nkandla a National Key Point informed the president that he was obliged to take measures at his own cost and to the satisfaction of the Minister “to prevent or counter subversion, espionage and sabotage”.
As the Cabinet Policy was not complied with and therefore did not constitute legal authority for the expenditure incurred by the DPW in respect of the Nkandla Project, the declaration of the president’s private residence as a National Key Point on 8 April 2010 therefore had the result that as from that date, he was required to secure his private residence at his own cost. “His failure to do so without reasonable cause would have constituted a criminal offence” in terms of the Key Point Act.
Curiously, the acknowledgement of receipt of this declaration in the Presidency is dated 7 April 2011, exactly a year after it was sent. Whether this delay speaks to administrative chaos inside the Presidency or to a more nefarious motive to delay incurring a formal legal obligation to pay for the cost of security upgrades in terms of the Act, is not answered in the Report.
The Declaration sent by the Minister of Police was in line with Section 3 of the National Key Points Act, which provides that on receipt of the notice, the owner, after consultation with the Minister of Police, has to take steps at his/her own expense and to the satisfaction of the Minister in respect of the security of the place.
It is common cause that the president did not implement any security measures in respect of his private residence, as was required of him in terms of section 3 of this Act. This means that the legal position is therefore that the National Key Points Act was not complied with. The expenditure incurred by the DPW in respect of the Nkandla Project – in as far as the National Key Points Act was applicable – was accordingly irregular.
The Public Protector did not make any finding on whether the president was prima facie guilty of a criminal offence for failing to secure the National Key Point as required by the Act.
It must however be noted that in terms of the Act the Minister of Police could, in terms of section 3A of the National Key Points Act, have taken over the duties of the president to secure his residence as a National Key Point, on his behalf and with his consent. In such a case, the president was liable for the cost of the steps taken, to the extent determined by the minister.
This was never done. As the Public Protector points out:
“I requested the Minister of Police on several occasions during the investigation to submit the relevant documents and/or correspondence indicating that the president was informed of the actions taken by the Minister as far as securing his private residence was concerned, that he consented to it, that a decision was taken accordingly and that he was informed of his liability for the costs involved.
No such documents and/or correspondence could be provided and I could find no evidence or indication that the minister invoked the provisions of section 3A of the National Key Points Act at any time.”
There was also no explanation of why the Minister of Police’s order, issued with the declaration of President Zuma’s private home as a National Key Point, that the president himself had to pay for security upgrades at Nkandla was ignored.
It may be that after the order was made, the president refused to obey the law and to carry the cost. It may also be that the order was never meant to be taken seriously but was merely issued to provide a smokescreen, creating the impression that the president would pay for all security related upgrades. It may also be that all concerned had forgotten about the order or discovered after it was made that the construction at Nkandla may legally be justified by invoking the Cabinet Policy discussed above.
As I tried to make clear, the Report of the Public Protector does not answer all the questions relating to the unlawful and unauthorized expenditure of R246 million on President Zuma’s private home. Most of the unanswered questions can only be answered by the president or by his closest allies in the Cabinet. If the president and Ministers in the Security Cluster were to take their constitutional obligation to account for their actions seriously, they would attempt to answer these questions.
But they probably never will. DM
Pierre De Vos teaches Constitutional law at the University of Cape Town Law Faculty, where he serves as deputy dean and as the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance. He writes a regular blog, entitled 'Constitutionally Speaking', in which he attempts to mix one part righteous anger, one part cold legal reasoning and one part irreverence to help keep South Africans informed about Constitutional and other legal developments related to the democracy.