Nxesi contradicts handbook on Nkandla upgrade

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi has defended the department’s plans to spend R203-million on upgrading President Jacob Zuma’s homestead in Nkandla, saying this was in line with the Ministerial Handbook. But a look at the handbook has shown that this is not the case.

On Tuesday, Nxesi was quoted in the City Press as saying: "I would like to state categorically that everything that has been approved and carried out at the private residence of the current president is in line with the Ministerial Handbook as far as it relates to security arrangements for private residences of the president."

Nxesi then criticised the newspaper for publishing details of the "top secret" documentation and warned that even possessing the document was in breach of the country's security laws. He called for an investigation into how the paper came to possess the document.

Threats against whistleblowers aside, Nxesi's justification for the expenditure is paper thin – and contrary to the guidelines in the Ministerial Handbook.

Although members can designate a privately-owned residence for use as an official residence at the seat of office, the handbook states that the public works department will only be responsible for making available general cleaning services in private residences used for official purposes.

"Members are responsible for all costs related to the procurement, upkeep and maintenance of private residences used for official purposes," it said.

Even so, it's unclear whether Zuma’s private residence at Nkandla has been designated for use as an official residence in addition to the president's existing three official residences in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.

And while the handbook states that the public works minister may approve a state contribution to security measures at the private residence of a public office bearer, this sum is restricted to no more than R100 000.

  • You can read the full policy on security measures at the private residences of public office bearers, beginning on page 101 of the Ministerial Handbook here. The policy on private residences is outlined on page 28.

Key point defence
Nxesi also intimated that Nkandla was a national key point, and so required special security arrangements, which could not be made public because of laws prohibiting this.

But, writing on the Daily Maverick website, constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos pointed out that the law used to provide for security of national key points did not apply in this case.

"It is true that the National Key Points Act [a piece legislation adopted at the height of apartheid in 1980] provides for the use of public funds to protect so-called national key points. But such expenditure can only be paid from the Special Account for the Safeguarding of National Key Points and only on instructions of the minister of defence. This was clearly not done in this case, which means the Key Points Act is not applicable here," he wrote.

The important point here, too, is that Nkandla is not a state property – it is privately-owned.

The Act states that the owner of a national key point must take steps to secure the area "at his own expense". The defence minister may take over security but "the owner or owners shall be liable for the cost thereof to such extent as the minister may determine".

While a special account has been set up for the safeguarding of national key points, these can only be used to render "financial assistance, including loans" to the owner of the key point and this only on the authority of the defence minister.

Handbook still under review
The Ministerial Handbook has frequently been used to justify questionable expenditure by public officials. Late last year, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela urged the public works department to "set standards for domestic accommodation of ministers".

This came after Madonsela found that the R700 000 spent by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa on accommodation for himself, his staff and guests at five-star hotels in Cape Town and Durban – a drop in the ocean compared to the sums now being spent on Zuma's private residence – were "unreasonably high".

She also recommended that the review of the handbook should be "expedited to provide clarity on ethical considerations regarding executive accommodation, particularly in the current climate of fiscal challenges".

The review of the handbook has been under way for over a year.

A spokesperson for the public service and administration department, Ndivhuwo wa ha Mabaya, told the Mail & Guardian that this process was still under way. Mabaya said the process required much consultation with public office bearers at all levels, and research into the guidelines set in other countries.

He could not say whether a deadline had been set but that "it’s something that the department is attending to".

A penchant for luxury
Outside of the planned spending at Zuma's private residence, the state has in recent years spent huge sums of money on upgrades to the president's official residences.

Last year, R200-million was set aside in the budget for the refurbishment of the president's official residence at Mahlamba Ndlopfu at the Bryntirion Estate. That year, then public works minister Gwen Mahlangu Nkabinde told Parliament that in the preceding year R13.9-million had been spent on Genadendal in Cape Town, R1.9-million was splashed out on Kings House in Durban and R40-million had been spent on Mahlamba Ndlopfu in Pretoria since 2005.

In 2009, it was revealed that R50-million was being spent on a four-metre high razor wire-topped metal inner fence – which stood 10.7m away from an exterior fence – at King's House, Zuma’s official residence in Durban.

The total cost of the extensive security upgrades, which included bullet-proof electric fences, motion and smoke sensors, watch dogs and police on quad bikes, was not known.

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