Dear President Jacob Zuma,
You’re lucky that I took time to write you this letter. It does not happen likely, and when I do, you need to know that I am very concerned. And that’s putting it mildly. By the way, I am not into open letters like Ben Trovato – a Sunday Times columnist – but I think sometimes it is the only way in which we can address our concerns as citizens to you as our leader or have a hope (in hell?) that our concerns would reach you and hopefully addressed and given the utmost attention they deserve.
Mr. President I wasn’t going to write this letter and thereby keeping my concerns about weekend reports to myself until media reports on Tuesday (2 Oct 2012) that Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi had decided to investigate how City Press obtained what he told SABC’s SA FM radio the previous day were “top secret” documents revealing the R203-million budget for your Nkandla private residence upgrade by his department. The newspaper reported on Sunday that you, Mr. President, will not be paying the full amount of your private residence upgrade as we had been previously assured by the department. Instead you will only pay about 5% of the R203m while we taxpayers, unfortunately, will pay the rest on your behalf, if these weekend reports are true.
According to leaked reports – and please don’t tell us taxpayers that you don’t respond to leaked documents as you and or some of your government ministers and their spokespersons have previously indicated because this is our money damnit! – you will only be paying about R10 651 580.64 while the state (through taxpayers’ money) footing the remaining R203 079 677.18. Angry at the leaking of alleged “top secret” documents to the media, Nxesi maintained to SABC that details of your Nkandla upgrade are protected by Key Points Act – an assertion which according to Pierre De Vos is completely wrong.
Mr. President, your ministers and their spokespersons – Nxesi in this case – have maintained some kind of secrecy around this saga which has shocked many in the country especially taxpayers themselves and the poorest of the poor who you have all claimed to represent. What a shame!
In these reports Nxesi is quoted defending the expenditure, and refusing to confirm the amount the state (aka taxpayers) is to spend on the project. Your minister, Mr. President, claimed City Press’ “unlawful possession of a top secret [document] is a breach of the laws”, hence his internal departmental investigation into the leaking of the report. The minister – like those who came before him – claimed “categorically that everything [relating to the upgrade] that has been approved and carried out at the private residence of the current president is in line with the Ministerial Handbook as far as it relates to security arrangements for private residences of the president”. This is also the normal practice for the former presidents of South Africa”, he said.
An earlier report by Mail & Guardian in August this year raised eyebrows, too, especially taxpayers’, about the extent to which we are made to pay for some of the stupidest developments from which we will not benefit as much as you would, if at all. Now The Zumaville, as it is now known, is seen as wasting a lot of millions/billions that could have been used for poverty alleviation and other important projects, many of which are included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Even your spokesperson Mac Maharaj – seemingly defended the alleged expenditure – asking the UK Telegraph newspaper: “What do you do when President [Barack] Obama or an African head of state visits [you]?”
Maharaj implied that throughout your presidency you have been accommodating these “heads of state” – some as far as America and from other countries outside of the African continent – in properties that are not worth occupation. Is that true, Mr. President? Is Nkandla that bad to be occupied? Well, he did not say exactly that but that’s what we learned South Africans can derive or make of his comments. This is further made clear by his comments to the newspaper that “You can’t send them to a hotel. Where do Prime Minister Cameron’s security staff stay when he goes to his private house?” Is this true, Mr President?
In a widely released statement – a link of which I do not have because this was copied from someone’s Facebook notes on 2 October – Nxesi said in terms of the Ministerial Handbook – one small but VERY BIG AND POWERFUL book that’s been seemingly been used and abused by many government officials, and yourself it seems – his department is “responsible for general maintenance, renovations and upgrading” of State-owned and private residences of members of the cabinet including that of the President”.
Mr. President, it is worth reminding you and your ministers that the said Ministerial Handbook is just “a guideline for benefits and privileges, to which Members [Minister, Deputy Minister, Premier, Member of the Executive Council (MEC) and a Presiding Officer/Deputy Presiding Officer in Parliament or in a Provincial Legislature] and their families are entitled, in the execution of their duties”. These are, however, only for the time a member still occupies his/her office and, in some race cases, even after leaving their respective positions. Chapter 2 of the Ministerial Handbook on security analysis states that:
- On assumption of office, members should approach the Minister of Intelligence Services and the Minister for Safety and Security, for a security analysis and arrangements for the provision of appropriate security,
- Members and their support staff should, at all times, adhere to the security arrangements and policies, and take precautions not to do anything that will compromise security. A copy of the Minimum Information Security Standards Manual can be obtained from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA),
- The analysis referred to in paragraph 3.1 above, will include security of private residences occupied on a regular basis, State-owned residences, private residences, personal security and the offices utilised by the Members,
- The Minister of Public Works should be requested to implement, in conjunction with the SAPS, the recommended security arrangements at privately owned residences in terms of the scheme approved.
On private residence, the Chapter 4 states:
- The Department of Public Works will be responsible for making available general cleaning services in private residences used for official purposes. Members are responsible for all costs related to the procurement, upkeep and maintenance of private residences used for official purposes,
- Security arrangements for private residences used for official purposes should be done in accordance with the Cabinet decision on “the State’s involvement with the provision of security measures to the private residences of Political Members” of October 8, 1997 and with due regard to the security analysis referred to above (Chapter 2, paragraph 3),
- The cost of security arrangements while it may not be covered in full, must be annually reviewed by the Department of Public Works in consultation with the Minister of Finance and communicated to all Members of the Executive,
- Consideration should be given for the Department of Public Works to be responsible for the costs associated with the provision.
According to Nxesi the Nkandla upgrades – at your private residence by the way – are therefore in line with the Ministerial Handbook. This despite their having nothing to do with “execution of [your] duties” at all. He further claimed information regarding this could not be made public because of some security-related prescripts and legislations. What really pisses us off Mr President is Nxesi’s ridiculous claim that the amounts already pumped or to be pumped into or budgeted for the project by his department “cannot” be made public because it is a “security matter”. Security my foot, Mr. President!
It is even more bloody worrying that the minister questions the figures quoted by City Press yet he won’t reveal the figures himself, alleging the newspaper’s figures are “out of context for its own end”. And just how the hell, Mr. President, are we not to believe the newspaper reports if the minister himself won’t make these “facts” public for all of us taxpayers to see for ourselves?
This secrecy tendency will not get us anywhere. Instead it will make us even more suspicious of every little word he will utter. Importantly, this secrecy tendency by your administration is something we hear quite a lot, if not every day, from many government officials and this is often the case when alleged corruption and maladministration practices are identified either through whistle-blowing or investigations such as the Auditor General’s, commission of Inquiries or Special Investigation Unit. And it is for this and many other reasons that many have raised concern over the proposed State Information Bill which many believe will be used to suppress important information from the public just as Nxesi is doing with the Nkandla upgrade saga. As already noted, Nxesi’s and his department’s explanation is misleading and it appears they have misread the said legal prescripts used.
De Vos said the Key Point Act and the Code prohibit you, Mr. President, from acting in a way that is inconsistent with your office, using your position to enrich yourself, or acting in a way that may compromise the credibility or integrity of your office or of the government. “The Code further prohibits the president from making improper use of any allowance or payment properly made to him, or to disregard the administrative rules which apply to him”, said De Vos. So by spending more than R200m on upgrading your private residence, it is appears you and Nxesi et al have breached these obligations and that such expenditure would deemed unlawful (and wasteful), he said. “If the presidency fails to put a stop to this immediately, we will know that the person who took bribes from Schabir Shaik has not become any more ethical since becoming president of the country”, said De Vos.
Mr. President – unless I really need to go back to school and learn this apartheid language over again so as to better understand the Ministerial Handbook on which the upgrades are based on – it is quite clear when reading Chapter 4 thereof that you are “responsible for all costs related to the procurement, upkeep and maintenance of private residences used for official purposes”. This is because by trying to justify why the state (aka us taxpayers) is footing the bill for this upgrade, Nxesi et al imply that while Nkandla residence is your private property, you will however be using it for official purpose. If so, the above-mentioned section of the ministerial handbooks make is clear that you should still pay for it and not the state (aka taxpayers).
Of all people, Mr. President, you should know that some of your ministers have previously abused this piece of executive privileges and benefits (see also here) and you have showed them “Who’s the Boss” and sacked them for their maladministration and fruitless expenditure following the public protector’s investigation into their improper conduct. It is therefore at the back of this and many other examples I chose not to mention that I, on behalf of other taxpayers, ask of you to stop what Nxesi and his bunch of staff are doing with our taxes: paying for something that the state should not be paying for – something that you, Mr. President, actually should be paying for from your own pockets.
To paraphrase and add to De Vos’s analysis – your failure to heed to my call to immediately stop this Nkandla upgrade saga would confirm many people’s suspicions and even give opposition parties greater ammunition against your administration that unlike former President Nelson Mandela’s and Thabo Mbeki’s – it is hell-bent on using legislation (quoted by Nxesi, Maharaj, etc) for self-enrichment and to hide unlawful conduct, maladministration or corruption, and thereby escaping public accountability especially how our taxes are used and abused.
Don’t spit on our faces. Not now, even!
Concerned South African taxpayer working hard for his money
in the mining industry where one of your ministers, again, said police were right to kill about 44 people (Lonmin mineworkers and jobseekers) as a self-defence.