/ 8 April 2014

Ministers seek clarity over Madonsela’s ‘confusing’ Nkandla report

The security cluster ministers include Siyabonga Cwele
The security cluster ministers include Siyabonga Cwele

The Cabinet ministers in the security cluster who conducted their own investigation into the Nkandla security upgrades released a statement on Tuesday morning saying they were seeking "clarity" about certain aspects of public protector Thuli Madonsela's report. 

"We have sought clarity on some areas which we believe are confusing and became evident in our detailed reading of the report," reads the statement. "The next step is for the office of the public protector to respond, after which we will be able to make a more informed decision on the way forward."

The ministers emphasised their respect for the public protector's office but said they were within their rights to seek clarity. Government has faced criticism for placing pressure on Madonsela's office, which should be independent as a chapter nine institution. The security cluster in particular were involved in a damaging court battle with her office to prevent the release of the report, and further pressures on her office were detailed in her report. 

Both the Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele and national police commissioner Riah Phiyega tried to institute an investigation involving Madonsela's office about leaks from her provisional report to the Mail & Guardian. Madonsela noted the incident in pages 103 to 106 of her "Secure in Comfort" report. 

She at the time informed both Phiyega and Cwele that neither her nor her staff would be party to either investigations, adding that it created uneasiness in her office.

"The investigations by the minister of state security and the national commissioner of the SAPS [South African Police Service] caused discomfort among the members of the investigation team, who perceived it to be aimed at intimidating and victimising them and me," she said in one damning section of the report. "My team and I were especially offended by insinuations that the leak originated from my office and that I had personally admitted to the leak."'

Increasing political pressure
Concerns also mounted before the release of the report of increasing political pressure being placed on Madonsela's office. 

Veiled threats were made at the time over the timing of the report's release, with powerful figures demanding it be released earlier so as not to affect upcoming elections. Other government figures investigated by Madonsela in the past came forward to challenge her findings, while others called the report into doubt. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said it would be treated as a political report and, according to claims, the party planned to tell its supporters to ignore the report. 

But ministers insisted that no undue pressure was placed on the public protector, when this question was raised after the reports release. 

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga spoke from her own point of view, saying the public protector needed to develop a "thicker skin". 

"The public protector is free to investigate anything so there should no holy cows. And in return people are free to also defend their rights, so she mustn't feel too sensitive … They have a right to raise their voice as she has a right to investigate."

Apply his mind
The security cluster meanwhile added in their Tuesday statement that Madonsela's office "has an enormous responsibility to ensure its findings are factually accurate and consistent with the law".

The security cluster ministers include Cwele, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor and Correctional Services Minister S'bu Ndebele. Mthethwa was involved in the upgrade and taken to task in Madonsela's report for poor leadership and failing to "properly" apply his mind when signing the declaration of President Zuma's Nkandla home as a national key point. 

Also on Tuesday, National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu – according to a Beeld report – decided to investigate the Nkandla report before the May 7 elections.

Sisulu decided to set up a multiparty parliamentary committee to consider Madonsela's report "Secure in Comfort", the paper reported.

Beeld quoted Democratic Alliance chief whip Watty Watson and Freedom Front Plus chief whip Corne Mulder, who both confirmed that Sisulu would appoint an ad hoc committee.

"The speaker phoned me and told me he planned to set up an ad hoc committee and that he wanted to consult," said Mulder. "The speaker said the ad hoc committee would have to work morning, noon and night up to the elections on May 7 to get the work done in time … He [Sisulu] said he wanted to complete it before May 6. That means the committee should present a report before then and then the National Assembly should be called upon to consider the report."

According to parliamentary rules, the speaker needed to consult with political parties before setting up such a committee. – Additional reporting by Sapa