/ 28 November 2013

Nkandla secrecy: A symptom of democracy in decline

If proven accurate
If proven accurate

Two weeks ago, this column commented on the way in which core constitutional values are honoured more in their breach than in their compliance. Two weeks later, the public remains unable to read the report of the public protector on the Nkandla upgrade and Western Cape police commissioner Lieutenant General Arno Lamoer continues in his post, with no further clarity on the investigation concerning serious allegations levelled against him.

Three researchers from the Institute for Security Studies last week highlighted the rapidly deteriorating health of our constitutional democracy when they published an article suggesting the recent attacks on public protector Thuli Madonsela, regarding her report on expenditure relating to Nkandla, should raise alarms bells.

Madonsela's affidavit in response to the security ministers' attempt to interdict her from releasing her interim report might have backfired on them badly in that it showed that their desperate protestations about so-called security concerns were nothing more than a fig leaf.

According to Madonsela, not only was the architect who had been appointed to oversee the entire Nkandla project not granted a security clearance, he did not have expertise in security matters. Even more damning is the claim that President Jacob Zuma chose this architect.

None of this information has deterred the security cluster from its persistence in preventing the public from being properly informed. However, from Madonsela's answering affidavit, the public is already entitled to draw two inferences that should require an immediate response from the presidency and the security cluster ministers.

First, it appears that if neither the architect nor the three contractors involved in the major amount of work to upgrade Nkandla had security clearances, the argument wears thin that the public is not entitled to see the report because of ­concerns about presidential security.

Unless properly countered by the security cluster ministers, the public is entitled to conclude that, as with the apartheid government, security concerns are raised mainly to stifle legitimate public debate.

Second, and possibly even more serious if proved accurate, is the claim that Zuma personally chose the architect. The president must tell us that this allegation is incorrect or he should be required to explain how he could have asserted before Parliament that he was ignorant of the details regarding the construction project.

On this basis alone, the authors from the Institute of Security Studies are entitled to express deep concern about a commitment to an independent public protector and a Parliament that must be the focal point for executive accountability.

But recent developments affect not only Parliament and the public protector. There are further allegations concerning Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa's protection of Lieutenant General Richard Mdluli and the allegation that it was under Mdluli's command that R200 000 from the secret service account was misused to renovate Mthethwa's private home.

Further, reference is made to former intelligence head Gibson Njenje, who has claimed that State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele forced out three top intelligence officials for investigating the Guptas over concerns about a serious threat to national security.

It appears to be common cause that the Guptas misused our key air force base, Waterkloof. But in this case, national security held little importance; hence, a perfunctory inquiry sufficed to deal with it.

The researchers' conclusion is a stark warning: "South Africa's criminal justice system and its chapter nine institutions, which were created by the architects of the country's Constitution for the purpose of ­preventing abuse of power, are either under attack or, in the case of the criminal justice system, in disarray."

This is a serious claim that goes to the heart of our constitutional aspirations. If there is a cancer in our constitutional body, it is likely to destroy not only institutions of police and prosecution, but ultimately the custodian institution of constitutional democracy, the judiciary. An independent judiciary requires support from the police and the prosecution as well as an independent Bar, which may well also be under the greatest threat since its inception.

In addition, as shown in our recent past, when the judiciary decides against powerful politicians it is labelled "counter-revolutionary" and is treated in the same way the security cluster responded to the public protector.

When serious allegations are made against the president, the police chiefs and a politically connected family, our constitutional democracy should demand a careful and transparent investigative process. How many readers of this column believe that the necessary mechanisms of accountability will be so employed during the next few months?