Nkandla: Did Nxesi lie?

2013-07-07 14:00

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... or did he accidentally mislead when claiming he couldn’t declassify report?

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi may have misled Parliament when he told Speaker Max Sisulu he didn’t have the powers to declassify the Nkandlagate report.

Nxesi has since confirmed that he had classified the report as “top secret” and was the only one who could declassify it.

City Press has obtained the letter Nxesi wrote to Sisulu on June 19, in which he advised the Speaker that his department’s report into the R206 million expenditure was classified “top secret”.

The letter addressed the tabling of the Public Works report – one of four investigations being conducted into Nkandlagate – in Parliament.

Nxesi commissioned a task team in his department to investigate the expenditure on President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead after City Press revealed in September last year the state was paying more than R200 million to upgrade the compound.

In his letter, Nxesi stated that the task team finalised its work “and presented me with a report, which it had classified ... ‘top Secret’”.

Nxesi then continues, stating it was the task team which had classified the report.

“I am informed that the task team’s report has been classified because the authors of the report are of the view that certain aspects of the security upgrade of (Zuma’s) private residence should not be made public, as the disclosure of those details could compromise security at the residence.”

The classification of the report, which identified “a number of irregularities”, presented the security cluster with “various challenges”.

Although Nxesi recommended that the report be handed to the Auditor-General (AG) and the Special Investigating Unit to investigate further, he couldn’t do so because of the document’s classification.

Terence Nombembe, the AG, had agreed to audit the accounts relating to the upgrades to Zuma’s private residence, but Nxesi wrote, “cannot commence the audit until such time as he has received the task team’s report”.

Nxesi further wrote: “As the report has been classified, I am not in a position to give the report to him without it being declassified by the authors.”

He added that he was in a similar position with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who had initiated her own investigation. The report has since been released to Madonsela.

After initial confusion that the report may have been classified by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Nxesi has since admitted that he classified the document.

Nxesi’s legal adviser, Phillip Masilo, told City Press: “The fact of the matter is that the report was classified by Minister Nxesi.” He would not divulge the identity of the officials who formed the task team or say why Nxesi didn’t declare his own role in the letter to Sisulu.

At the release of a summary of the report in January, Nxesi was flanked by Cwele, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

The letter stated that the report had been classified in terms of the Minimum Information Security Standards (MISS), a Cabinet policy of 1996.

Nxesi acknowledges in the letter to Sisulu that paragraph 1.2 of Chapter 4 of the MISS stipulates that the responsibility for the grading and regrading of document classifications rests with the “institution where the documents originated”.

The “institution” in this case is the department of public works, of which Nxesi is the executive authority.

Nxesi advised Sisulu that the report should be tabled at the joint standing committee on intelligence.

“This committee must deal with the task team report, in my view, because the chairperson and some of the other members of the task team were members of one of the intelligence services and because the task team report was classified as ‘top secret’. The report also deals with aspects of national security,” Nxesi wrote.

The confusion about Cwele’s role was caused by Nxesi’s mention in the letter that he was referring the report to the intelligence committee “on behalf of the minister of state security”.

This did not mean Cwele classified the report.

A source close to the committee explained to City Press that although Nxesi could delegate classification authority, he still remains the “point man”.

Masilo issued a statement saying the classification had been done in line with Cabinet approved policy and after discussion in the security cluster.

Masilo later told City Press that Nxesi had consulted the ministers of police, defence and state security after receiving the task team report and applied his mind and “classified it in terms of the MISS”.

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