Nkandla blame game

2014-09-14 15:00

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Senior public works officials abdicated their responsibilities to exercise oversight over the spending in the controversial Nkandla project for President Jacob Zuma’s private residence and allowed consultants to dictate terms.

A Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe has found this led to the costs spiralling out of control from R27 million to R246?million.

The SIU report, released this week by Zuma to Parliament, has laid the blame for the exorbitant costs at the door of 15 public works officials, four of whom have since left the department, while 11 others, who are still with the department, were members of the regional bid adjudication committee which “unjustifiably” approved the appointments of contractors who were “enriched” through the project.

They have been charged by the department for contravening the Code of Conduct for Public Service because they allegedly failed to do their jobs to ensure there was no irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

Among the senior officials identified by the report are Solly Malebye, Sam Vukela and Siviwe Dongwana, who were acting or permanent directors-general between 2009 and 2012.

The unit has referred the three, who are no longer with the department, to the National Prosecuting Authority to consider charging them criminally – which may mean some of the money spent on Nkandla could be recouped from them.

According to the report, during the investigation, some of the senior officials – like project managers Jean Rindel, Sam Mahadeo and the department’s manager of the KZN office, Kenneth Khanyile – “suggested” that they had been told to “destroy or not to keep documents” related to the Nkandla project.

But when asked by SIU investigators to identify who had instructed them to destroy documents, they refused to say.

The report said their seniors also denied instructing any of the three to destroy documents.

Khanyile, however, told the SIU that members of the regional bid adjudication committees, who face disciplinary charges, were under “immense pressure” to expedite construction of the Nkandla project.

He said because the project related to a head of state and his security, neither business processes nor Treasury regulations were followed.

According to the report, criminally charging Khanyile (who has resigned from the department), under the Public Finance Management Act may not be possible since he was not the accounting officer of the department at the time.

The report also mentions Khanyile telling SIU investigators that he faced “general threats” to fast-track the project and was told that if Zuma’s life were ever in danger and the project was incomplete, he would be held personally responsible and could be redeployed or lose his job.

He told investigators there was “no room to question or disregard instructions” on the Nkandla project, but when asked to name the people who made threats to him, he refused.

Minenhle Makhanya, the architect who is being sued for R155?million by the department, emerged as the central figure who authorised payments to the companies involved in Nkandla, some of whom the report found were paid for work they did not do.

The stinging report reveals a slew of instances where officials failed to do their jobs and “unlawfully” allowed “outside” professionals, led by Makhanya, to irregularly expand the scope of the project.

In one instance, the report notes, in spite of having a senior quantity surveyor, Johannes Crafford, and an experienced architect, Glenda Paisley, appointed by the department to advise and provide support to the Nkandla project, both of them were removed after they raised concerns about the project’s lack of planning and financial management.

The SIU has also referred some of the contractors and consultants to the SA Revenue Service because it believes the tax clearance certificates they used to get contracts at Nkandla were “possibly fraudulent or invalid”.

According to the report “it was on Rindel’s watch that the costs of the project soared so exponentially”.

Rindel told City Press he had not seen the report and was unaware of any disciplinary action pending against him.

“I have given my full cooperation to the investigation. That is all I can say without reading the report. I don’t know if the SIU has recommended disciplinary action against me because no one has told me. The only thing I can say is that I still work for the department as a project manager,” said Rindel.

The report also indicates that although department officials calculated the “private costs” for Zuma to pay from his own pocket at R22?million in August 2009, this figure eventually dropped to just under R3?million by June 2011.

The report also shows that none of the officials could explain what happened to Zuma’s “private costs” towards upgrades that were not part of security installations, including the so-called fire pool.

Two sources involved in the investigation also told City Press that despite combing through tens of bank accounts registered to contractors and department officials, the SIU did not find a “cent out of place” to suggest bribery or corruption.

A source within the SIU said bank accounts of close relatives of officials and contractors were also investigated – including those of former public works minister Geoff Doidge and his then deputy Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, who were involved during the main procurement period.

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