State’s U-turn on Nkandla review

2014-06-01 15:00

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The government is backing down on its threat to challenge Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report in court.

The former security cluster of ministers announced days before the new Cabinet’s appointment that they would review “aspects” of the report in a move that was widely criticised as a delay tactic.

But this week, new Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha told City Press he believed Parliament was the appropriate forum for the matter to be handled.

Senior government sources also told City Press there were strong indications that the court challenge would be dropped.

Some new ministers in the cluster prefer the matter to be handled through Parliament, believing the ANC could better managed it there than if it were left to the courts, where the outcome would be unpredictable.

Asked in an interview on Friday which branch of government should deal with Madonsela’s report, Masutha said he believed Parliament was “the appropriate forum”.

He also said he was unaware of any legal action currently taking place against Madonsela’s office.

“I’ve heard that story [of a legal challenge to the Nkandla report], but I’m not aware of litigation pending against the Public Protector on this matter,” he said.

State Security Minister David Mahlobo told City Press yesterday he was waiting for the security cluster’s first meeting on Wednesday, where he expects the matter to be on the agenda.

But he said he couldn’t “say whether we will follow the decision [to challenge Madonsela in court] or not”.

In what could be an indication that the decision to take Madonsela to court was not sanctioned by Zuma, presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj said on Friday that Zuma still intended to provide a “full response” to Parliament once he received another Nkandla report from the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

That report will recommend criminal and civil action be taken against officials involved in the Nkandla upgrades. The SIU said it would give its report to Zuma by the end of June. The unit has identified 15 officials, mostly former and current public works employees, who could face criminal and civil action.

Maharaj said the presidency was not part of the former security cluster’s decision to take Madonsela’s report to court for a review, saying: “There is no other process that we are currently part of.”

City Press also understands that Zuma will meet Masutha on Wednesday to discuss, among other things, the Nkandla report and the crisis over National Prosecuting Authority head Mxolisi Nxasana’s security clearance. It is believed that Mahlobo, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe will also attend.

Maharaj, however, said Zuma held “routine meetings with ministers individually and in a group?...?on a regular basis”.

A week before the new Cabinet was announced, former security cluster ministers – the police’s Nathi Mthethwa, justice’s Jeff Radebe, state security’s Siyabonga Cwele and defence’s Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula – released a statement saying they would go to court for a judicial review of Madonsela’s report.

Their reason was that “some of the findings and remedial action proposed by the Public Protector in her report are irrational, contradictory and are informed by material errors of law?...?The ministers’ legal team has been instructed to prepare and file review papers in due course.”

But no court papers have yet been filed.

An ad hoc parliamentary committee convened to deal with the report voted to postpone the matter to the incoming Parliament.

Masutha said on Friday that “once a matter in Parliament has lapsed, it’s up to a new Parliament to decide whether to resuscitate the matter”.

“Assuming that Parliament decided to resuscitate the matter, I think that is the appropriate forum to decide on the matter,” he said.

Masutha said he believed Mandonsela’s report was “a good report in many respects”.

But he added: “There are many issues that are a bit puzzling for me that I prefer not to deal with outside parliamentary process.”

Madonsela, who knows Masutha from their student days at Wits University, said yesterday she would like to meet him to discuss any court challenge, should they decide to go ahead with it.

“I intend to request a meeting with Minister Masutha, as I did with his predecessor, Minister Jeff Radebe, to see if there is a way I could assist the security cluster ministers with an explanation that could help avoid going to court at this stage. However, if the ministers still want to go to court, I am fine with that. I am certain I will win the case,” said Madonsela.

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