The ANC is hoping that its deployees in Parliament will put the controversial Nkandla matter, which has dominated headlines for the past four years, to bed this week.
The specially-established parliamentary committee, which has been considering a number of reports into how R246-million was spent on security upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla, is expected to table its final report to the National Assembly by Friday.
The ANC-only committee has undertaken a careful navigation around the various reports, and made sure not to make any adverse references around Zuma’s role in the upgrades. It’s a clear strategy to make findings that lay the blame on the officials – and not on the president.
If the ANC has its way, Zuma will come out scot-free, an innocent victim of those who spent almost a quarter of a billion rand upgrading his home, without his knowledge or consent.
A ruling by the high court in Cape Town on the powers of the public protector last month couldn’t have come at a better time for ANC MPs who sit in the Nkandla committee. In fact, they have their own interpretation of that ruling, which simply says that the public protector’s proposed remedial actions are not binding.
The committee also seems to rely heavily on a new argument which says that only a security expert can determine whether there were non-security upgrades, and this will prove a need for Zuma to pay back the money.
“I don’t think we need an expert to tell us that a swimming pool is not a security feature,” quipped Lawson Naidoo, the executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution at the end of the committee’s last meeting on Thursday night.
Remedy the situation
Public protector Thuli Madonsela, in her report Secure in Comfort, which was published in March, recommended that Zuma pay a reasonable proportion of the money spent on non-security upgrades at his home, and that the quantum that should be repaid should be determined in consultation with experts.
Madonsela had found that Zuma and his family had derived personal benefits from the upgrades that went beyond security issues.
The parliamentary committee was established at the end of August. The expectation was that the committee will get to the bottom of what happened in Nkandla, and make recommendations to remedy that situation and ensure that it is never repeated.
But from the beginning, the opposition parties had to fight and make threats to ensure that Madonsela’s report would be considered.
When the committee finally got going, ANC MPs maintained that there was no need to call witnesses; that the president would not have been aware of wrongdoing by officials; and that it had the right to recommend different corrective action. They refused to agree to call Zuma to answer questions and to enforce Madonsela’s directive that he repay a portion of funds.
The ruling party’s MPs also reiterated Zuma’s view, which said that he was not bound by remedial action advanced by Madonsela, and rejected a united plea by the opposition parties to seek independent legal counsel to settle the argument.
The levels of credibility around the committee’s proceedings took a dive when the opposition parties drew a firm line in the sand and walked out in September. They never returned.
‘Designed to shield Zuma
The opposition MPs withdrew their participation in the committee, arguing that they would not legitimise a process which was designed to shield Zuma from liability for abuse of state funds.
“The opposition will not legitimise this blatant undermining of the Constitution for the protection of one man,” the parties said. But the ANC’s 6-5 majority on the committee meant that the committee still had a quorum, and could continue its work in the absence of opposition MPs.
While the ANC will always get its way due to its numerical dominance in Parliament, the participation of opposition parties, even if they do not agree, creates a mantle of credibility against the farce that Parliament has become.
Despite the refusal to call in legal experts to settle the matter of the powers of the public protector, the ANC MPs were only too happy to call a parliamentary legal advisor, Ntuthuzelo Vanara, last week to give a very limited opinion with regards to the circumstances under which a claim by the state for undue enrichment could take place.
“It seems to be designed to illicit a particular response,” noted Naidoo. “We know that in this committee, there have been calls from the opposition parties for a broader legal opinion, which the ANC members in this committee rejected. What a surprise that now a legal opinion on such a narrow ground was now found necessary,” he added.
Vanara told the ANC MPs what they wanted to hear.
Madonsela not a security expert
He said Madonsela was not a security expert, and reached her conclusion that some of the improvements – which included a swimming pool – were not related to security.
He said Madonsela should have consulted a Cabinet memorandum on securing the homes of heads of state, and not a general police list of security steps, adding: “So anything that is not in this list and she does not get a satisfactory explanation for, she will then come to a view that it is not a security feature.”
Vanara said it was a challenge for him that the person [Madonsela] who made the determination between security and non-security measures was not a security expert.
He therefore concluded that it would be almost impossible to prove that there was undue benefit by Zuma and his family.
The committee found that:
- The appointment of the architect was illegal;
- Zuma did not influence the appointment of the architect, despite personally introducing his private architect to the government officials on site;
- There was a lack of oversight by the departments of public works, police and defence over the procurement process;
- The National Key Points Act is out of sync with the Constitution; and
- Zuma did not flout the executive ethics code.
Whatever the outcome of the parliamentary process is, it is unlikely that the matter will be put to rest by this parliamentary process.
That hope is misplaced; instead this process will strengthen the resolve of those who want to legally challenge the entire Nkandla project in court.