Nkandla: ‘Destroy the evidence’

2014-10-05 15:00

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Government officials were ordered by ministers, directors-general and a state security officer to destroy documents related to the Nkandla project.

This is what officials of the public works department will testify when they face departmental disciplinary hearings to account for the wastage of public money in the controversial R246?million upgrade to President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence.

At least three of the 13 officials being charged claim they were ordered by ministers, directors-general and a senior departmental security officer to destroy all evidence of what was raised at secret meetings to discuss the Nkandla project.

The accused officials say they and their colleagues were told to leave no paper trail or recordings of many “special” Nkandla meetings held during the construction period.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they are facing disciplinary hearings and are yet to formally present their evidence before the hearing.

The charges against the 13 officials include financial misconduct, allowing irregular spending and failing to follow tender procedures.

Three government departments – public works, defence and police – were intimately involved in the upgrades. The officials were not specific about the individuals who gave the orders, saying the information will be handed to the hearing.

Among the damning claims being made by the officials are that:

.?Before they entered meetings, they were instructed to leave phones in their cars so no recordings could be made;

.?Personal notes had to be left behind when the meetings were over so no written record could leave the room;

.?Orders were given that no recording be made at some progress meetings and site meetings; and

.?Orders were given that recordings must be stopped after only a few

seconds or minutes of a meeting’s commencement. “We had to lock our phones in our cars. We weren’t even allowed to take them in and switch them off. They said it was top secret and nothing could be recorded,” said one of the accused.

Indications are that the 13 officials, who have been dubbed the Nkandla scapegoats, will be forced to take all the blame for the massive escalation in the cost of the project, as there has been no mention of action against the ministers and three public works directors-general who presided over the period of construction.

This despite the Public Protector’s hard-hitting findings about their roles. The 13 officials will testify that in several meetings, both ministers and directors-general ordered actions that were inconsistent with tender procedures.

The officials carried out the orders and took short cuts with procedures and appointments of contractors after they were allegedly threatened with losing their jobs.

Ministers and directors-general involved in the project denied to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) that they were at most of these meetings or that they gave orders that measures or procedures should be disregarded.

City Press understands the officials will insist that the travel documents and itineraries of all the ministers involved in the project for the past five years be produced. This, they say, will provide proof that they did attend many of these meetings.

While there are incomplete minutes of a handful of the at least 28 Nkandla progress meetings held since 2009, there is apparently no record of numerous secret Nkandla meetings.

The accused officials say the complete minutes and records of all the Nkandla meetings would show ministers and directors-general ordered that Zuma’s private architect, Minenhle Makhanya, must be appointed as Nkandla principal project head – allegedly at Zuma’s request.

According to the Public Protector’s Nkandla report, Makhanya earned R16.6?million from the project.

The SIU is claiming R155.3?million from Makhanya, which he must either pay himself or claim back from the other contractors he was overseeing.

The officials and their representatives say the ban on recordings and minute-taking during meetings on the Nkandla upgrade and the destruction of some documents explains why the SIU could find no record of many meetings.

The SIU could not trace any sound recordings of 2009 meetings and could find traces of only four recordings of 2010 meetings.

Recordings done in 2011 were often only a few seconds or a few minutes long. Other recordings found were irrelevant to the Nkandla project.

“Despite extensive inquiries and efforts, which would have shed more light on what actually happened during the upgrading process, we were not able to trace a number of documents,” reads the SIU’s Nkandla report.

Some officials, including Jean Rindel, the public works department’s Nkandla project manager, already appeared before disciplinary committees in Durban this week.

The hearings of the accused were meant to be held behind closed doors, but Media24 (owners of City Press) brought a successful application on Tuesday to attend Rindel’s hearing and to report on it.

Media24 will also bring applications to attend the other 12 hearings.

Twelve of the 13 officials are being represented by Claude Naicker, KwaZulu-Natal’s manager of the Public Service Association (PSA).

This week’s hearings were postponed to allow the PSA time to prepare properly.

Phillip Masilo, the legal adviser to the minister of public works, said he wasn’t aware of the allegations. “They are given the opportunity to explain themselves in the hearing.

“They must go to the hearing and explain that to the chairperson. We can’t comment on the validity [of their claims].”

He questioned the timing of the revelations, adding that they had a chance to make these claims to the Public Protector or investigators from the SIU.

He also said they should provide evidence to substantiate their case. Evidence is expected to be heard from mid-December until at least March next year.

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