Nkandla: Fact checking the spin

The public protector’s report on Nkandla shows that government officials, and possibly even Zuma, were aware of the cost overruns. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

The public protector’s report on Nkandla shows that government officials, and possibly even Zuma, were aware of the cost overruns. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Analysis

Were President Jacob Zuma and his government blameless victims, exploited by unscrupulous contractors who underhandedly made a fortune from the Nkandla renovations? Not quite. As the public protector’s report on Nkandla shows, government officials, at times including ministers, and possibly even Zuma, were aware of the cost overruns.

This is contrast to the views of some members of the ad hoc committee investigating Nkandla, who felt that only a few officials and some contractors were responsible for the debacle.

The Nkandla project began in May 2009 with a total projected cost of a modest R27-million. By September that year, the amount had doubled, and by March 2010 it had almost tripled.

After a visit to Nkandla last week by Parliament’s ad-hoc committee on Nkandla, the committee’s chairperson Cedric Frolick said action should be pursued against “contractors and any official of the department of public works [DPW]” involved in cost overruns.

He noted “gross” cost escalations and shoddy workmanship.

“There’s serious concerns … where the security will need to pay urgent attention,” he said in reference to parts of the security upgrades which the committee felt were incomplete.

ANC MP Mathole Motshekga—also part of the ad-hoc committee—said that money should be recouped from “the real culprits, those responsible for the cost inflations”.

Committee member Thandi Mahambehlala said public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report had “misled the country; it has misled South Africans and tarnished the image of our government and the credibilty of our government”.

ANC members sought to paint Nkandla as a noble cause, corrupted by nameless officials and contractors who overcharged the state for the upgrades.

To a certain extent, Madonsela agreed. But where her report departs from that of ANC MPs is that she does not see the state and Zuma as victims of a few unscrupulous individuals and contractors. Instead, her report, which has not been overturned by a court of law, is littered with examples of ministers, senior government officials, and perhaps even the president himself knowing about cost overruns, and doing nothing to prevent them.

‘Violation of Zuma’s rights’

There is evidence that Zuma was consulted on various “upgrades”, which Madonsela said were not related to his security. But when she tried to ascertain whether Zuma had ever inquired about what these features would cost, he declined to answer.

Instead, in a submission to Madonsela, Zuma said he was not aware that he would be part of the investigation, and called this a violation of his constitutional rights. This is in spite of the fact that Nkandla is his private residence.

Madonsela also found that there was a reason that much of the planning for Nkandla was “left in the hands of consultants and the DPW office bearers”. Regular meetings between high-level officials and lower-ranking government officials simply did not happen.

An absence of policy or guidelines on how a project of this scale should be managed was made worse by the involvement of the minister and deputy minister for public works, which Madonsela said “was extraordinary”.

Madonsela’s report says that in the beginning of March 2011, officials from the DPW’s head office had instructed those not directly responsible be removed from the Nkandla project. This was apparently because Zuma did not want so many people involved.

Madonsela noted: “This is difficult to understand given that these professionals had been included earlier.”

Interference

The evidence shows that those responsible for the appointment of service providers, consultants and contractors went to the highest level. Even Geoff Doidge, then-minister of public works, “became personally involved” in the appointment of a supplier for the bulletproof glass. The DPW was responsible for awarding contracts to 12 contractors and seven consultants. Proper tender procedures were not followed and officials understood that even that process was just for rubberstamping. Decisions about appointing contractors were taken at “DPW head office and at ministerial level”.

An interministerial task team, set up to investigate Nkandla, noted that lower officials were uncomfortable with the interference of ministers in the operational aspects of the Nkandla projects.

Ibhongo Consulting, Igoda Projects, R&G Consultants and Minenhle Makhanya Architects were all appointed by DPW, because Zuma had already appointed them for the private works to be undertaken at Nkandla.

In fact, it was DPW officials who approved at least two price variation orders, at a whopping 52.7% and 58.6% of the original contract prices for phase one of the project in January 2011.

Madonsela notes that “it is not in dispute” that DPW paid for every aspect of the Nkandla upgrades, despite the fact that the client departments were the police, the department of defence and the presidency.

But the acting director-general of the DPW, Solly Malebye, told Madonsela’s team that DPW expected that the departments would contribute to the project. So far, the other departments have yet to contribute a cent.

From the start of the upgrades, in May 2009, to March 2010, the Nkandla budget increased from R27-million to R80-million. Malebye, as the accounting officer for the department, denied any knowledge of this.

In June 2010, a senior official in the DPW requested that funds be moved from the department’s inner city regeneration programme and the dolomite programme. In the communication that followed between DPW officials, it was established that Malebye had approved the shifting of R40-million from the department’s capital works budget to finance Nkandla.  The reason for this was that the department had run out of money for the upgrades.

As Madonsela noted, these programmes were directly related to service delivery and safety issues, and suffered because of Nkandla.

Air-conditioning

Once the bulletproof glass had been installed, government felt that air circulation in the houses could be a problem. Former public works minister Doidge, and his deputy, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, were present at a meeting where it was decided that air-conditioners had to be installed.

Electronic security systems

According to the protector’s report, the decision to award the contract for security systems to one company was taken by the acting director-general at the DPW – another high-level intervention. But the contractor did not comply with state security’s security standards.

Madonsela noted: “The contractor that installed some of the most sensitive security equipment for the safeguarding of the President at a cost of more than R11-million did not comply with the prescribed vetting standards.”

The clinic

Even lawyers for then-surgeon general of the defence department, Vejay Ramlakan, conceded during consultations with Madonsela’s team that there was no legal framework for the building of the clinic at Nkandla. Deputy public works minister Bogopane-Zulu told Madonsela’s team that she had discussed the clinic with Zuma and that she believed he supported the idea of building the clinic. Ramlakan “reported that the DoD had decided not to use the military clinic for the Nkandla community ” because he believed it would have been illegal to do so.

Madonsela could find no evidence that anyone involved had considered a cheaper option than what was eventually decided upon. The construction of a clinic at Nkandla eventually cost R11.9-million.

The relocation of the cattle kraal and chicken run

Constructing the kraal, with an “elaborate design”, which included a chicken run and the culvert, cost about R1.2-million. Zuma told Madonsela that he had spoken to “government” about moving the kraal to make room for the extra livestock he had acquired, and that the older one would be kept for ceremonial purposes.

“He further indicated that he would be amenable to refunding the state for the cost incurred,” Madonsela’s report notes.

The swimming pool, amphitheatre and visitor’s centre

Madonsela notes that the amphitheatre was “clearly designed for open-air functions”. And when she visited Nkandla, the visitor’s centre had recently been used for a private function, “which confirmed the impression that it has little, if anything to do with the security of the president”.

Madonsela said that there was evidence—“snippets regarding minutes”—that dealt with the “aesthetic fit” of these three features. Other, more economic options, were not considered.

The paving that went along with these constructions “could clearly have been avoided”.

She said it was clear that the consultants had been allowed to design the features “as they pleased”.

The “safe haven”, or bunker

Initially, the idea was to reinforce a room at Nkandla to serve as a bunker for Zuma. The consultants appointed quoted DPW R457 971 for the project. In a matter four months, the cost of the bunker had increased to R3-million. The consultants prepared a second cost estimate, given to DPW, this time including a much more elaborate design, which totalled R8.3-million. By 2014, the bunker would cost R19-million, and the work on it has still not been completed.

A senior police officer knew about the new designs and discussed these with Makhanya, the architect. Officials told Madonsela that the decision to build a more elaborate structure came from “top management”. It is not clear which management is being referred to.

The 21 staff houses for SAPS members

The houses were built to house SAPS members who would guard Zuma. These remain unoccupied. In a briefing to editors and journalists, police minister Nathi Nhleko said that he could not determine who ordered the construction of these houses. But there is a letter which proves that Zuma himself asked for them to be built. Again, it is not clear whether Zuma asked about the potential cost to the taxpayer of these houses.

“By instruction of the State President, President Zuma, the existing house at Nkandla currently accommodate (sic) SAPS members must be converted as part of the president’s household.

“To cater for the needs of the members currently accommodated in the house as refer above (sic), additional bachelor flats need to be added to the needs assessment previously provided to your department.”

Despite their outright rejection of Madonsela’s report, it provides detailed analysis of who might be held responsible for the cost escalations. And it provides details of how high up the tacit approval went.

According to Madonsela’s report, Zuma was aware of the swimming pool, including its design, the relocation of some houses at Nkandla, the bulletproof windows (he did not like the design), and the new kraal. He did not raise any concerns about the scale of the project, but he raised concerns about the slow pace of the upgrades, which prompted Doidge’s intervention.

Zuma declined to answer numerous questions put to him by Madonsela, including whether he had asked about the cost of the project.

 
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans is a Mail & Guardian news reporter.She's a recovering musician who became a journalist while interning for the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley.She spent three years reporting there before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane).Her areas of interest include crime, law, governance, and the nexus between business and politics.Her areas of disinterest include skyscrapers. Read more from Sarah Evans

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