Madonsela’s Nkandla report: What’s at stake?

Public protector Thuli Madonsela's final Nkandla report stems from an investigation that took roughly a year to conclude, and it will be detailed and technical. However, beneath the legalese are some key issues at stake that the report will hopefully clarify. Here's our rough guide of what to expect from the Nkandla report:

Did Number One know?
Reporters reading the public protector's final report into the upgrades at Nkandla will undoubtedly turn their attention first to the central question in the saga: What did Number One know?

It is almost common cause at this stage that the costs of the upgrades were greatly inflated, and that a litany of errors were made in the awarding of tenders to contractors. This is confirmed by 12 000 pages of public works documentation obtained by the Mail & Guardian.

But the critical issue in Madonsela's report will be her findings about what President Jacob Zuma knew about the developments, when he was informed of developments, and whether he had a hand in the inflation of the price of the R206-million upgrades.

The 12 000 pages suggest that tender regulations were flouted because those involved in the project rushed to complete it to accommodate Zuma's needs.

Then, in October last year, the M&G revealed excerpts from a draft version of Madonsela's provisional report into the upgrades at Nkandla. While the version was potentially subject to change, as interested and affected parties had yet to be consulted, it revealed that at the time at least Madonsela felt that there was culpability on Zuma's part.

It said Zuma should be called to account by Parliament for violating the executive ethics code in two ways. First, that he did not take the necessary steps to ensure the public money was properly spent. Second, that he misled Parliament when he said that all the Nkandla structures not related to security were paid for by Zuma and his family.

The draft provisional report also says the appointment of the chief architect was at the behest of Zuma, which was an example of undue "political interference" on his part and recommended that he repay government for the money spent.

Critical will be an assessment of whether these are the findings of her final report. If they are included, this would be hugely devastating for Zuma. If not, questions will undoubtedly be asked about Madonsela's U-turn.

Is it a swimming pool?
An interministerial task team report found that tender procedures were flouted but exonerated Zuma from any wrongdoing and also assessed various elements of the security upgrades.The report was released last year in a supposed effort by government to clarify misconceptions lurking in the public's mind.

It has been reported that the upgrades, which were supposedly for security, included the construction of a swimming pool and an amphitheatre. Yet the ministers discerned that the swimming pool was actually a "fire pool", not for swimming, and for ensuring there is enough water on hand in the event that one of the thatched roofs caught alight.

It also found that the amphitheatre was actually a "retaining wall" constructed to stabilise the ground "against the earth".  Madonsela's assessment of these features will no doubt be key to assessing the validity of the ministerial report. 

Who was the complainant?
Madonsela's office told the M&G on Monday that the Nkandla complainant did not ask for anonymity in terms of the Protected Disclosures Act, and this person will be identified in the final report.

Madonsela has been accused of trumpeting the Democratic Alliance's (DA) views on controversial matters, most recently by the Communication Workers Union, who accused her of being a DA mouthpiece following her investigation into the SABC.

But the DA and constitutional law professor Pierre De Vos are both complainants in the Nkandla investigation. Which complaint ultimately led to the investigation will be of significance to Madonsela's detractors.

The DA asked the public protector to investigate the complaint in 2012, and Madonsela confirmed that an investigation was underway in October 2012.

In February this year, the DA reiterated that it was the complainant in the case.

In November 2012, De Vos asked the public protector to investigate whether Zuma breached the ethics code by lying to Parliament.

Who paid for the upgrades?
De Vos's complaint also requested Madonsela to investigate whether Zuma breached the Ethics Act by failing to declare a potential conflict of interest in terms of who funded the construction of Nkandla.

"In the event that it transpires that President Zuma and his family did not pay for all the non-security upgrades at Nkandla themselves and if it emerges that other parties contributed to the cost of these upgrades, to confirm that President Zuma is not in breach of sections 3.1, 4.1 or 5 of the executive members ethics code in that there is a conflict of interest that might have arisen as a result of benefits received from private entities or that any gifts or other financial benefits were not declared as required by the executive members ethics code," De Vos wrote.

The Schabir Shaik trial in 2005 revealed that businessperson Vivian Reddy could have been involved in securing some of the funding for Nkandla. Zuma told Parliament that he was still paying off a bond on Nkandla. De Vos said the details around the bond needed to be clarified by Madonsela to confirm whether Zuma had encountered any conflicts of interest in the funding of the project.

Were there real security threats in the report that Madonsela agreed to leave out?
The release of the provisional report to interested and affected parties was delayed by security cluster ministers, who said the draft contained information which would jeopardise both the president's personal security, as well as national security. They initially tried to interdict the release of the report in court.

In court papers, Madonsela argued there was no factual basis for this, and submitted a copy of the draft provisional report to the court as proof. She later agreed to have any potential security threats independently assessed in an effort to address these concerns. She said any changes to the report would be based on this assessment and not that of the security ministers.

Which security features are presented in her report will be a key test of whether the ministers were right in their assertion, that her initial revelations were a national security threat at all. It will also be a test of the ministers' credibility in their efforts to halt the release of the report.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 


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