First Nkandla estimate was a 'thumb suck', report finds

JOHANNESBURG - It started out as a “thumb suck”, but has ended up costing the South African taxpayer more than R200-million.

This is just one of the revelations made in a government task team report on President Jacob Zuma’s lavish Nkandla estate, which has escalated into a career-threatening crisis for him. (see below for highlights from the report)

The 50-page document goes on to say that officials initially estimated in 2009 that it would cost R27-million to revamp Zuma’s KwaZulu-Natal homestead. However, this figure was not based on expert opinion.

“On 21 May 2009, the professionals of DPW (Department of Public Works) visited the President’s residence and prepared a scope or proposal on security upgrades to be effected at the residence,” the report reads.

“According to the initial scope by Public Works, the estimated cost was approximately R27-million.

However, these cost estimates were not based on any expert security assessments – they were merely thumb sucked.”

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi last year appointed a task team to investigate the costs around renovations at Zuma’s rural home.

The task team released its findings this week and exonerated the president from any wrongdoing, though it did point the finger at former officials from the Department of Public Works.

But the report has also raised more questions about the validity of the expansive remodelling of the president’s private residence, including a swimming pool, a chicken run and a cattle kraal.

Senior government officials, including Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, defended these additions to the president’s 3.83 hectare property as necessary in order to ensure the safety of Zuma and his family.

Nxesi listed several factors for this, including:

*The Zuma residence is located in an area with a violent history;

*The Zuma homestead and family members had been attacked on three occasions;

*Zuma uses Nkandla to receive official delegations, hold meetings.

These all “necessitated major security upgrades in Nkandla”.

Nxesi added: “The requirement to provide security for President, both sitting and retired, remains the responsibility of government.”

 Here are some highlights from the report.

*In 2009 officials from DPW put the cost of upgrades at R27-million, but says these estimates were not done by experts. It also does not specify what was included in the R27-million assessment.

*The report stresses that Zuma didn’t ask for upgrades but it does not say if he was made aware of the progress of the upgrades and the cost.

*It says it was decided in 2003 that the ministerial handbook,  which is a “guideline for benefits and privileges to which members of the executive and their families are entitled”, did not “adequately cover the provision of security upgrades on the private residences of the President, Deputy President and former Presidents and Deputies are concerned.”

However, it does not say how exactly the handbook fell short.

*The report says one of the contractors was paid R78-million despite the contract being cancelled for “poor performance”.

*The report says that Zuma’s residential complex also had to include accommodation to save staff a one-hour commute from Nkandla to Eshowe… “sometimes they were sleeping in cars at Nkandla,” the report says.

Government spokespeople could not be reached for comment. 

-Additional reporting by Dianne Hawker

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