Sunday, December 2, 2012

Nkandla: who will take the fall?

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi has given the clearest indication yet that some of his department’s officials will take the rap for the R248 million Nkandlagate scandal.

He told Kaya FM host John Perlman during an on-air interview on Thursday: “It is clear in this case that people went over the budget.”

It was the first time Nxesi had spoken out about what may have gone wrong with the exorbitant upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s rural homestead at KwaNxamalala after initially setting his aim on whistle-blowers.

Nxesi also announced that an internal Public Works investigation into Nkandlagate will be concluded in the next week and that its findings will be made public.

At the same time, it has emerged that the two main contractors on the project – Bonelena Construction and Moneymine Enterprises – may have contravened the construction industry’s regulations by performing work for which they were not qualified.

City Press previously revealed that the two companies were awarded work worth R99 million (Bonelena) and R61 million (Moneymine) respectively on the Nkandla project.

Bonelena owner Thandeka Nene disputed the R99 million figure, but wouldn’t say how much her company was paid.

All construction companies in South Africa are registered and graded by the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) according to size and capacity.

Bonelena has a grade 7 general building (potentially emerging) rating, which means it is only allowed to do work up to the value of R40 million.

But the regulations do provide for emerging companies to be given work higher than their grading if the client (Public Works in this instance) is satisfied that the contractor has the potential to develop and provide financial and management assistance to the company.

The Pietermaritzburg High Court liquidated Bonelena in July this year.

Moneymine has a grade 6 general building (potentially emerging) rating, which means it can only be given contracts worth up to R13 million, or a maximum of R40 million if Public Works approves.

Any Public Works official who awards tenders contrary to the industry’s regulations will be guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding R100 000, says CIDB spokesperson Kotli Molise.

The Nkandla upgrade forms part of the department’s prestige portfolio, which is also the subject of a corruption investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Nxesi and his department has been under great pressure to explain how R248 million was spent on “security upgrades” at Zuma’s home that included the building of a clinic for Zuma’s use; a tuckshop for security guards; a cattle culvert (tunnel) and the relocation of three families.

The minister told Perlman it was “very clear” the prices charged for the Nkandla upgrades were “questionable”. He slammed the building industry, saying it was “likely you will be exploited”.

“In some instances we sit with this situation of these tenderpreneurs who are running many projects, running from one project to the other without completing a project.”

Nxesi said the public had the right to be angry about the cost of the Nkandla upgrade, but must give him a chance to complete his investigation.

Asked by Perlman if the state would have to do similar upgrades if Zuma chooses to move to another residence, Nxesi said yes. “Unfortunately, according to the laws, we have to do that if he chooses to do that.”

But, added the minister, Zuma should be “appreciated” for choosing to live in a rural area “with the poor people”.

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