Nkandla fall guys take war to Cabinet

The Department of Public Works will this week hold discussions about a “settlement proposal” with 12 of its officials who have been charged in connection with upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home.

The officials are also demanding that their individual hearings be merged and turned into a commission of inquiry.

The department will meet the Public Service Association (PSA), the union representing the officials, on Tuesday.

Phillip Masilo, legal adviser to Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, said a “settlement proposal” with the officials – who have been charged for, among other things, deviating from competitive tender procedures – will be on the table on Tuesday.

City Press can also reveal the PSA has demanded:

»?Former public works minister Geoff Doidge, his deputy Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, retired SA National Defence Force surgeon-general Vijay Ramlakan and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela be called as witnesses in a commission of inquiry;

»?The secrecy clauses signed by the officials before they embarked on the Nkandla project be nullified to allow them to testify freely in their own defence;

»?A classified Cabinet memo which gave the go-ahead for the Nkandla project be declassified; and

»?That they be given access to classified documentation about the project, including an intelligence report.

Masilo said the request to discuss possible settlements had come from the PSA, though the union denied this.

The PSA’s labour relations officer Roshan Lil-Ruthan did not, however, rule out the possibility of talks around a “settlement” if this was agreed to by the officials.

Lil-Ruthan maintained that until such a discussion was held, his clients would plead not guilty to all the charges they face.

If a settlement was agreed on at Tuesday’s meeting, which will be attended by public works director-general Mziwonke Dlabantu, it could take many forms.

“People may want to plead guilty for failing to do one thing or the other,” Masilo said.

“The chairperson may decide that some officials get a warning, or their salary is not paid for six months or something like that. Each case, in this instance, is determined on its own merits and they (officials) may make representations that say ‘This is my first offence, I’ve been with the department for many years and I have a good record.’

“They won’t be making any arguments, just representations – maybe to say ‘I am guilty and I should have applied my mind on this contract’. The officials may bring in their personal circumstances to state their case for a settlement.

“Some people may not want to be involved in a long drawn-out process so they may opt for a settlement,” said Masilo. He also said there was nothing stopping the officials from calling high-profile witnesses – including Zuma if they wished.

All the officials’ preliminary hearings, including some which were meant to be held this week, have been postponed.

Lil-Ruthan attributed the delays to requests from his clients for a “hell of a lot of outstanding” documents.

“This (settlement proposal) is a serious and sensitive matter because our members are pleading not guilty. But we would not be rejecting any offers put to us,” Lil-Ruthan said.

“It’s highly possible that we will talk about a settlement because (the department of public works) doesn’t want this thing to be drawn out and because some of the officials have reached retirement age and other reasons give them a final written warning.

He said it would also be “wise” to talk about a settlement as most of the information was classified and related to an “ugly, costly and long drawn-out process”.

“Any settlement process would draw huge public criticism because of what would be in the minds of the public out there.

“But our members want continued employment.

“We want those high-profile witnesses because the Nkandla costs soared after they got involved in the project.

“The classified Cabinet memo is our smoking gun and we want it declassified.”

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