14 June 2024 | 01:56 AM

Last-minute attempt to hide Nkandla costs

Key Takeaways

Even more taxpayer’s money than reported — now nearly R240-million — is being spent on President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead, the government’s own figures show. This emerged as the government ratcheted up its attempts this week to suppress the information using apartheid-era secrecy legislation.

A document published by City Press on Sunday last week revealed that in March 2011 the state approved a security upgrade for an amount of R203-million at Nkandla, Zuma’s private home.

But department of public works director general Mandisa Fatyela-Lindie refused to comment in City Press, claiming the homestead was a national key point and thus subject to blanket secrecy.

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi then defended the enormous expenditure and announced that the mere possession of the “top secret” document was illegal and he would investigate how it had reached the newspaper.

Yet such posturing has been undermined by the fact that, in May this year, Fatyela-Lindie herself supplied Nkandla’s detailed cost allocations and projections in a briefing before Parliament’s National Council of Provinces. This document can be freely accessed online.

Recent construct

It suggests the department and Nxesi’s claims that the information is “top secret” could be a recent construct, designed to prevent embarrassment for Zuma in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in December.

Scrutiny of the legislation used to justify the secrecy suggests the claims are paper-thin.

The cost schedule presented to the council reveals the following:

* Contractor fees at Nkandla are expected to total R193-million;

* Consultant fees at the homestead are projected to cost an extra R44-million. Three engineers canvassed by the Mail & Guardian expressed concern that, at 23% of the contractor’s fee, this figure was very high. Consultant fees on such projects typically range between 10% and 15%;

* Several security upgrades for ministerial private residences are priced at exactly R100 000, which is consistent with the ministerial handbook regulations. The only two exceptions are Zuma’s Nkandla, totalling R238-million and former President Nelson Mandela’s Qunu residence, at R23-million, a fraction of what is being spent on Zuma;

* The department misled the M&G last November when it claimed it was spending only R36-million on Nkandla. In the cost schedule, it does reveal that R36-million was spent on contractor fees in “previous years”. But the schedule also reveals that during the same period the department spent another R26-million on consultant fees.

* In addition to this glaring omission, the department was obfuscatory by failing to make reference to the enormous projected costs.

According to the May 2012 cost schedule, contractors’ fees are projected to reach R194-million and consultant fees would reach a startlingly high R44-million. This adds up to R238-million.

These figures dwarf the earlier claim of R36-million and are considerably more than the R203-million approved by the department back in March 2011, as reported by City Press.

The public works department first argued that Nkandla was subject to secrecy provisions in response to an M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) application in August.

In the application, amaBhungane requested financial and procurement information for the Nkandla upgrade, emphasising it was not interested in “technical detail of security-sensitive improvements”.

Rejected

But Fatyela-Lindie rejected amaBhungane’s application, claiming Nkandla was a national key point and “information related to [it] is protected in terms of the National Key Points Act”.

Fatyela-Lindie’s arguments are misplaced. First, the National Key Points Act has an impact on information disclosure “relating to the security measures” or “any incident that occurred there”. Clearly, she could have given details on the amounts of money being spent.

More importantly — as pointed out by amaBhungane’s lawyers in an appeal to the refusal — Paia should override the National Key Points Act in this case.

“Where any other legislation has the effect of prohibiting or restricting disclosure of a record and where such provision is materially inconsistent with either an object or specific provision of Paia, then Paia will apply and not the restrictive provision of the other legislation.”

It remains unclear when Nkandla was designated a national key point. For example, when the M&G approached the department last November, it willingly detailed the various facets of its security upgrades. That, together with the cost disclosures made in Parliament, suggests Nkandla might have been assigned key-point status only after May.

After the fact

It raises the disturbing possibility that Nkandla was designated a national key point in a conscious attempt to hide information after questions arose about the huge expenditure, such as through ­amaBhungane’s Paia application.

AmaBhungane is appealing the department’s decision to reject its Paia application.

Faced with heated criticism, Nxesi this week defended his department’s spending on Nkandla by claiming it was “in line with the ministerial handbook”.

On the face of it, however, this is just plain wrong.

As pointed out by constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos, the handbook allows public works to spend a maximum of R100 000 on security measures at Cabinet members’ private residences. Additional costs are for the minister in question, or, in this case, Zuma’s account.

How Nxesi justifies the expenditure in terms of the handbook remains unclear.

According to City Press, when the department of public works approved R203-million in state spending on Nkandla, officials also discussed whether or not R10.7-million should be billed to Zuma because this fell outside the state’s mandate. But it appears Zuma would not be able to afford this without assistance.

Since his appointment as president in May 2009 to the financial year ending April 1 2013, Zuma will have received a total salary of R9 730 596.

Zuma’s R9.7-million presidential salary for the four years is therefore R900 000 short of the R10.6-million the department of public works has agreed will be his personal contribution towards the upgrade.

In November 2011, the M&G reported that one of the companies contracted by the department of public works to do construction work in Nkandla, Bonelena Construction Enterprise, employed Zuma’s niece.

One of the company’s projects, referred to as “Project A”, was worth R30-million for work undertaken in Nkandla.

Zuma’s high-flying nephew Khulubuse, who has his finger in several multimillion-rand mining pies, also has his own residence in the compound.

According to reports, Khulubuse’s stands include two double-storey flats and two houses.

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj received the questions, but was not able to reply by the M&G’s print deadline. — Additional research by Vinayak Bhardwaj

*Disclosure: The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism’s mandate includes advocacy to secure the information rights that ­investigative journalists need to do their work. As such, it has ­campaigned against the abuse of secrecy laws to ­withhold important information from the public


Skirting draconian laws with ease in Zuma’s sleepy hometown

In Nkandla, among those who live virtually in the shadow of the presidential compound — and among those who guard it — its status as a national key point is effectively meaningless.

Taking pictures right at the entrance was obviously out of the question, a police member in uniform told the Mail & Guardian when asked this week, but pretty much everything else is okay.

“As long as you don’t go through any gates it’s fine.” He paused. “I’m not giving you permission. If somebody else sees you there and gives you problems, don’t say I gave you permission. But I can’t stop you on the road and say ‘no, you can’t take pictures here’. If you are on the road it’s fine.”

But legislation meant to protect key installations against so-called terrorists states no photography of any kind, from anywhere, at any time, for any reason, without explicit permission — which is, in reality, unobtainable.

The law, introduced in 1980 as a response to “sabotage” in what was then the Transkei, centralised a vast number of arbitrary powers in the hands of the defence minister with little or no executive oversight and accountability.

In the minister’s opinion

Among its provisions is that the minister may “take any necessary steps which, in his or her opinion, may be necessary for the security of these areas in relation to third parties”.

In 2007 an attempt was made to amend the law, which resulted in an equally draconian working document advanced by the South African Police Service.

Both the original law and its planned replacement generated intense criticism from trade union federation Cosatu and the Freedom of Expression Institute, among others.

But even as the national government this week continued to use the controversial apartheid-era law to refuse even to confirm or deny broad spending numbers, paranoia was hard to find in Nkandla, the site that the information blackout is supposed to safeguard.

Three constables from the nearby police station, who were conducting an impromptu roadblock right where the view of the compound is at its best, conferred quickly when asked about taking and publishing photos.

Conference

“What pictures do you want to take?” they wanted to know. “What are you going to say about the president?”

Yet they not only agreed that taking pictures from a public spot is within the law, they also helpfully pointed out interesting features as we did so.

Neighbours also do not consider the site sensitive or in need of extraordinary precautions. Have they ever taken pictures of it? Of course: family members elsewhere like to know that their home has a famous resident who is bringing money, development and glamour to the area.

Have they experienced any hassles from police or been admonished? The question, universally, brought only polite bemusement. __Phillip de Wet and Sally Evans

*The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.org for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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