Pulling wool over the eyes, Nkandla style
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko scored a tangible victory in the long-dragging Nkandla saga this week, as even leaders of the official opposition accepted – and repeated as fact – one of his imaginary costing numbers, a shift that will greatly reduce the pressure on President Jacob Zuma.
And less tangibly but more importantly, Nhleko’s determined efforts in recent weeks also culminated in a shift of attention away from the core of the Zuma compound in KwaZulu-Natal, and hence far away from what public protector Thuli Madonsela found to have been Zuma’s ethical failure and the resulting benefit his family derived from state funds.
These successes came as an ANC-heavy ad hoc parliamentary committee showed every sign of being ready to accept Nhleko’s report despite the numerous mistakes, misapprehensions and outright fabrications it contains. In effect, they are pushing it aside without directly challenging Madonsela’s decision that Zuma should reimburse the state.
The committee inspected Nkandla on Wednesday ahead of their further deliberations on the Nhleko report.
After the inspection, the Democratic Alliance issued a statement decrying the state of houses built for police and military officials “at a cost of R6-million each”, a number repeated by party leader Mmusi Maimane.
The units, even ruling party MPs agreed, did not reflect that price tag.
But there is no evidence that the units had, in fact, cost anywhere near R6-million. Documentation concerning the Nkandla project, now in the public domain, shows each unit came in at a fraction of that cost. In her calculations Madonsela put the price of a two-bedroomed unit at R875 000, whereas the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) used a more comprehensive metric to reach the equivalent of R1.17-million a unit.
Nhleko, on the other hand, said that a total of about R135-million was spent on police and military housing and by dividing that total by the number of units he reached the figure of about R6-million apiece.
But herein lies the nub: the difference between the two sets of numbers is not merely academic. The result of Nhleko’s figures is to cut in half the total number that would be the starting point for any calculation of Zuma’s liability – if any such calculation is ever done.
All parties and investigations have agreed, at least tacitly, that the Zuma family did not directly benefit from the construction of the small village adjacent to their homestead, on land under control of the state.
If Parliament accepts, as the DA has, Nhleko’s figure for spending on those units, any repayment by Zuma must be calculated as a fraction of R111-million as an absolute maximum. Accepting the findings of Madonsela and the SIU, on the other hand, would put the starting point for calculating Zuma’s liability at slightly above R222-million.
Nhleko has sought to reduce the maximum starting point for a calculation by another R40-million, at an upper limit of R71-million, by steadfastly insisting in the face of all evidence that the total of R246-million in government spending on Nkandla is an invention of the media and opposition parties.
Madonsela found that Zuma had been in ethical breach of his obligation to ensure state money is spent wisely and should pay back some of the money unduly spent on Nkandla. The SIU found only that “the president or his family were enriched”, without any liability of repayment.
In theory, Nhleko’s report was a response to Madonsela’s requirement that the Zuma repayment be calculated, but he set the amount to be repaid at zero by finding that a swimming pool, amphitheatre, visitors’ centre and animal enclosure were all vital security features.
The committee’s inspection of the homestead was limited to the security features examined by Nhleko and excluded private residences, which the SIU found had been enhanced by state-funded infrastructure.