Parliament diary: It wasn’t Zuma’s fault, says Nkandla committee

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The Parliamentary committee set up to consider the issue of security upgrades on President Zuma’s Nkandla home has completed its final report. In its ultimate form it exonerates Zuma almost entirely, while seeking to place blame on officials portrayed as having run riot on the project. The report even highlights a recommendation that a further security assessment needs to take place – in case there is not enough security at Nkandla yet. By REBECCA DAVIS.

It would be premature to suggest that President Zuma benefited from the Nkandla upgrade to the tune of “undue enrichment”.

That is one of the findings of the Parliamentary ad hoc committee on Nkandla. There is no evidence, they have found, that President Zuma influenced officials involved in the security upgrade to his home to act irregularly. But the officials did act irregularly. The project suffered from “scope creep”, the report records mildly, but in a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon committee chair Cedric Frolick did not mince his words.

In all his years in Parliament, he said, he had never seen a project so “completely, completely mismanaged”.

The officials involved were “completely reckless” in the way they undertook the security upgrade process.

“It raises bigger questions,” Frolick said, as to what is going on with other projects on a similar scale, where officials similarly have the power to spend billions in public funds.

“What you see at Nkandla is not worth one-third of the money [spent on it],” Frolick said.

It’s for this reason that police may have to undertake a further review of the security measures in place at Nkandla. After spending over R200 million, Nkandla may actually still not be safe enough for the president.

The Parliamentary committee set up to consider the matter, established at the end of August, has never looked likely to make findings damning of Zuma. By the end of the process it was constituted entirely by MPs from the ruling party. The committee originally included representatives from the opposition parties, but these MPs withdrew after disagreement with the ANC MPs about the committee’s “methodology”.

In particular, opposition politicians felt that the committee should be able to call witnesses to appear before it, including the president himself. ANC MPs disagreed, on the grounds that this was “not necessary”.

There was also conflict about whether the findings of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on the Nkandla upgrade should be considered binding. In deciding that they should not, the ANC MPs cited the recent Western Cape High Court ruling against the DA – that Madonsela’s findings on the appointment of the SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneng were not binding.

The opposition response has been to point to the fact that the judgment in that matter made it equally clear that Madonsela’s recommendations could not be summarily rejected without rational reasons.

Unable to reach consensus on these two major matters, the opposition representatives on the committee walked out – a decision Frolick described as having caused “disappointment”.

Addressing journalists on Tuesday afternoon, however, DA Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane defended the move.

“We were right in withdrawing from [the committee],” Maimane maintained, describing it as “always a whitewash”.

The report, he said, could “just as well have been written at [ANC headquarters] Luthuli House” in advance.

Frolick was insistent, however, that the committee acted appropriately within their mandate in coming to their conclusions. “The opposition, of course, have their own views,” he conceded.

The final report highlights failures from numerous quarters – except the President.

The committee found that there was a lack of executive oversight from the relevant ministers; that regular security assessments were not carried out by SAPS; and that there was not enough financial transparency along the way. Architect Minenhle Makhanya, who was the “principle agent”, failed to deliver regular reports to the Department of Public Works as required.

It is “not correct” to suggest that President Zuma “did not act” on the situation. When alerted, he made efforts to investigate the matter, noted the relevant reports, and responded to the reports.

The Public Protector’s finding that aspects of the upgrade were unrelated to security could not be simply accepted because “it is common cause that the Public Protector is not a security expert”. As such, the committee has now referred the question of which features of Nkandla constitute a security measure, and which do not, back to Cabinet for determination by security experts.

This was one of the committee’s findings that the DA’s Maimane was most scathing of. “You can’t stand up and say that a chicken coop is a security feature,” he complained.

The committee also recommends that those responsible for the “scope creep” of the project must be held accountable – by the President.

Parliament’s role is not entirely over, however. After publication, the report must still be discussed in the National Assembly. Maimane indicated that the ruling party could be certain of a robust debate in the House.

After the final report was adopted by the committee on Tuesday afternoon, ANC MP Mathole Motshekga suggested gushingly that it served to “entrench and deepen our Constitution, accountability, democracy, checks and balances”.

But Florick was clearly feeling more of the strain. After a press conference where numerous journalists suggested (in more or less oblique ways) that the public would be dissatisfied with the outcome of the committee, he left the room snapping at one reporter.

Maimane says the DA will exhaust all available Parliamentary processes on the matter before pursuing legal channels. Though official charges have not yet been laid against Zuma, police said on Monday that the multiple Nkandla-related corruption cases opened against Zuma by the opposition at different police stations have been “centralised”. Lieutenant General Vinesh Moonoo – who oversaw the Oscar Pistorius investigation was confirmed as heading up the probe.

Quite aside from the lingering questions hanging over the Nkandla expenditure, one major issue remains to be clarified: What powers does the Public Protector actually have? If her recommendations can be blithely discarded when unpopular, what is the purpose of her role.

Article by : Rebecca Davies.

Article source : Daily Maverick.