Explain Nkandla’s spending

2012-11-17 12:31

A huge amount of money has gone into the compound – where did it come from and why?

While few details of the Nkandla “upgrade” are available, what is clear is that a huge amount of public money has been spent.

The figures range between R200 million and R250 million.

Although the public works minister has denied that the amount is this large, the choice not to reveal the actual amount suggests that the reported figures are near the mark.

The matter could have been laid to rest when President Jacob ­Zuma addressed it in Parliament this week.

But an opportunity was missed.

The public was left with no answers as to the actual amounts invested, the procurement processes followed and what justified the use of large amounts of public funds to ­upgrade the president’s private residence.

The issue is not what the president’s family spent on the ­Nkandla residence but the use of public resources.

A democratic government ­cannot spend R200 million on ­anything without accounting for it.

It is as if those who are used to dealing with budgets totalling ­billions have somehow forgotten what R200 million means to ­ordinary members of the public.

This sort of money certainly can’t be spent upgrading a private dwelling, even, or maybe ­especially, one owned by no less a public representative than the ­president.

Even in the extremely unlikely event that the security assessment concluded that the president’s safety required some or other immensely sophisticated and costly technology, the nature of this expenditure demands ­public justification.

So even before the debate about legality and illegality starts, if ­expenditure of this scale and ­character is not carefully and transparently accounted for, you can bet your bottom R200 million that those who authorised and ­benefited from the spend will be found guilty in the court of public ­opinion.

It does seem clear that important laws have indeed been ­broken.

The Public Finance ­Management Act prohibits wasteful expenditure.

The Ministerial Handbook prescribes minutely the process that must be followed and the limits that are set for security upgrades to private ­residences belonging to members of the executive.

All appear to have been ignored.

The public has been offered a range of unacceptable explanations for the expenditure and for the veil of secrecy thrown over it.

The National Key Points Act, a piece of apartheid legislation used to protect the likes of power ­stations and fuel depots from ­“terrorist” attacks, has been ­invoked.

We also have Mac Maharaj’s ­increasingly implausible spin. He argues that an exceptional level of security is necessary to protect visiting heads of state.

Even if it was necessary to spend this amount of money to ­secure the handful of heads of state who may visit the president at his private home, surely the first question to ask is why the ­president doesn’t use one of his three state-owned official ­residences for his visitors, and spend the R200 million on the many more pressing social needs that ­confront the country.

Corruption Watch is also ­particularly interested in the apparent disjuncture between the amount spent and what appears to have been actually provided.

This is either a case of particularly inefficient service delivery or else the state has been robbed blind.

This demands a close examination of the procurement systems followed and the prices charged.

This issue won’t just go away.

The reference to “Nkandlagate” is particularly apt because, like the infamous Watergate scandal, the cover-up is going to exacerbate the fall-out.

All that’s certain is that the truth will out.

»Lewis is executive director at Corruption Watch

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