Nkandla #FAIL

2013-12-19 19:19

The making of “Prestige Project A”, the name given to the upgrade of President Jacob Zuma’s estate at Nkandla, was a massive fail. That can be the only finding after reading a 40-odd page interministerial task team report on Nkandla, released by government today.

Out of 13 applicable procurement and best-practice laws, 12 were flouted as the open tender system was dropped in favour of nominated companies who undertook work valued at over R200 million on the president’s sprawling estate.

The report found that an estimated R71 million was spent on security upgrades to the estate while R135 million went to the operational needs of police and soldiers to keep the president safe.

The presidential architect, Minenhle Makhanya, project managed the entire shebang though he had no security clearance. He appointed all the companies, none of which were on the department of public works’ approved list. He promised to provide their credentials to Public Works, but never did, the report finds.

Out of 15 contractors, six had no security clearance, posing a huge security risk. One company, E Magubane, had its clearance denied but it continued to install Nkandla’s CCV cameras at a price tag of R10 million. “The major challenge identified by the task team was that there was no coordination between various departments that ought to have been involved in the security upgrades,” the report finds.

The “operational needs”, on which the biggest money was splurged, include homes for police and soldiers stationed at Nkandla, the helipad, a crew pavilion, a clinic, generator, evacuation measures and a perimeter fence. When you read these “operational needs”, they sound like the setting up of wartime operations in Iraq or Somalia or South Sudan. It’s perplexing considering the relative peace around Nkandla.

Two things struck me as I read the comedy of errors the report lays bare. In spending over R200 million on the president’s safety, he has probably never been more unsafe than during the renovation work. And, for a man who has crafted an identity as KwaZulu-Natal’s peace-finder and a son of the rural soil, he (or his team) engaged a security project more befitting a genuinely besieged leader like Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai. How odd.

A third thing that is perfectly clear is that while this report is honest (it lays bare the failings), the accountability will lie with civil servants. My reading is that two former Public Works directors-general, Solly Malebye and Sam Vukela, will carry the can, as will a former Public Works security manager, Zwitani Rambau, as well as a Ms N Mbukushe who wrote a memo declaring the work an emergency project, which allowed the flouting of tender regulations.

They’re all long gone, probably unemployed and penniless, so expect no justice from that angle. While it’s clear to anyone who reads the report that there is a stark case to be made for political heads to roll, here’s what is likely to happen. The report recommends that the roles of former Public Works minister Geoff Doidge (conveniently and hurriedly posted to Sri Lanka as ambassador) and his then deputy, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu be probed.

Expect the political heat to fall on their shoulders and poor Bogopane-Zulu not to make it back as deputy women’s minister next year.

The uniforms are likely to get off: National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega is a Teflon cop to whom nothing sticks; and Vijay Ramlakan, the former surgeon-general who fronted the Thursday press conference to explain the spending of R135 million on “operational needs”, is a highly regarded and decorated soldier who is a close comrade of President Zuma.

The report notes that Ramlakan’s first Defence Force security assessment and requirements were jotted down, quaintly, on handwritten note paper, a reflection of just how casually almost a quarter of a billion rand of our money was splurged, in peace-time, on the security of a president’s private residence.

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