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Leaked report shocks south Africa: While thousands of foreign visitors converged on South Africa to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela, President Jacob Zuma was struggling to shake off the implications of a leaked report by the Public Prosecutor into a colossal waste of public funds. Tom Nevin has the details of the leak that has shocked South Africa.

Hot on the heels of a decree by South Africa's Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, that reined in improper and wasteful spending of taxpayers' money by state officials, South Africans were rocked by the exposure of alleged improprieties by government officials at the top level.

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A litany of charges was contained in reports by the public protector, an independent, constitutionally mandated institution led by advocate Thuli Madonsela. The reports outline the plunder of public funds, blatant patronage, unlawful acts and outright corruption at the highest levels of government.

The most serious of the charges, in a provisional report leaked to the media, is an indictment of President Jacob Zuma's administration that details the so-called Nkandla affair. Nkandla is Zuma's private residence in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal and is a lavish and sprawling settlement of function buildings and dwellings that accommodate much of the president's family, including his four wives. Madonsela's report sets out chapter and verse how an upgrade of Nkandla's security component, initially budgeted at R20111 ($2m) ballooned to over R200111 ($2om) and included embellishments that had little to do with security.

Separate indictments detail the alleged misbehaviour of two ministers, Tina Joemat-Peterson who holds the agriculture, fisheries and forestry portfolio, and Dina Pule, the former communications minister.

The public protector charges Joemat-Peterson with wasting taxpayers' money and trying to interfere in an investigation into the alleged misconduct by her and her department. The report probed the "irregular" awarding of a $80m tender for the management of the department's sea patrol and research ships, including collusive tendering. The report urges the President to consider disciplinary action against the Minister.

The report on the then Communications Minister, Dina Pule, alleges that she laundered a R6m s600,00o ($58,000) gift of taxpayers' money to her boyfriend and had her department fund her lover's lavish overseas trips. Pule has since been removed from her ministerial portfolio.

But it was "Nkandlagate" that commanded the widest attention and most fired public outrage.

Should the report have been issued in its provisional form? Both the government and the public protector believe not.

The security cluster of cabinet ministers expressed "deep anger" at the report's publication, while Madonsela regretted that the report had been published in defiance of orders of its confidentiality.

She reiterated the point that the report was provisional and that publishing it was both unethical and unlawful. This practice, she added, was at odds with the Public Protector Act, which states that:

"No person shall disclose to any other person the contents of any document in the possession of a member of the office of the public protector or the record of any evidence given before the public protector, deputy public protector or a person during an investigation, unless the public protector determines otherwise."

The government did not buy Madonsela's insistence that her departments had had no part in leaking the report, making the climate between them even more stormy. The issue became moot when the government withdrew its objections and the provisional report became public property. The final report is expected at the end of March.

The Mail & Guardian weekly was the first to go to print and was unrepentant at its decision. It was immediately followed by virtually every news medium in South Africa and a great many others beyond its borders. The government blamed Madonsela for the leak, but she denied doing so and issued her own statement distancing her and her department from the furore. While the reports are being considered damning indictments of how integrity in upper government echelons can go haywire, they also bring some comfort to ordinary South Africans that no one is above the law and that at least some of the safeguards of the state's morality are working.

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"The alleged provisional findings contained in the Public Protector's report into the spending of over s19.3m on President Zuma's private home in Nkandla are so damning that, if accurate, they would warrant the most severe sanction of President Jacob Zuma's conduct," announced the DA's parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Masibuko.

She said that if the final findings of the public protector's investigation remained unchanged, she would consider tabling a motion to investigate President Zuma for being in violation of the Constitution and for committing "serious misconduct".

Thabo Leshilo, Agang's spokesman said the public protector's report into the "astounding abuse of public money on President Zuma's palace at Nkandla, comes as no surprise: we have always known that Number One's fingerprints were all over the cookie jar. A fish rots from the head, and the President is setting a dismal example."

Leshilo quotes the provisional report for noting that "millions of rands of our money was splurged on facilities that had nothing to do with security". He itemised such facilities as a swimming pool, a visitors' centre, amphitheatre, cattle kraal, marquee area, extensive paving and new houses for family members relocated especially for the purpose of having a free ride at the taxpayers' expense.

He maintains Zuma should pay back every rand of public money improperly spent to live like a monarch.

South Africa now waits for the issuing of the final report and the steps, if any, she counsels should be taken against the president. That will happen within a few weeks of the elections. There will be a lot of breath holding going on.

Wolf packs on the hunt

As 2014 looms as an election year--the politicians' opportunity that comes just once every five years in South Africa--the game is on to exploit anything that might embarrass the other side. South Africa's official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, and such smaller hopefuls as COPE and Agang, were quickly on the attack, teeth bared. The government, aka the ANC, had its hands full in warding off the baying wolf packs.

RELATED ARTICLE: About South Africa's Public Protector

The Public Protector answers only to the Constitution and the law and is independent of government and political parties. It receives and investigates complaints against government agencies or officials. Its services are free and available to all.

The Public Protector is appointed by the President, on the recommendation of the National Assembly, in terms of the Constitution, for a non-renewable period of seven years. If the Public Protector finds the complaint justified, he/she will do whatever possible to find a solution to the problem, including recommending changes to the system.

The Public Protector can also motivate the issue for debate in Parliament and ensure recommendations are followed. It has the power to investigate government at any level, including central and provincial government, state departments, state owned enterprises and local authorities.

The Public Protector can investigate improper prejudice as a result of:

* Abuse of power

* Unfair, capricious, disourteous or other improper conduct

* Undue delay

* The violation of a human right

* Any other decision taken, or situation brought about, by the authorities

* Maladministration

* Dishonesty or improper dealings with respect to public money

* Improper enrichment

* Receipt of improper advantage The public protector will not investigate:

* Judgments by judges and magistrates, including sentences imposed by them

* Private acts by individuals

* Private companies

* Doctors or lawyers who are not working for the state

Complainants should not fear being victimised for "blowing the whistle" on corrupt or improper practices. All information that comes to Public Protector--including the identity of complainants and their sources of information--is treated as confidential.
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Title Annotation:GOVERNANCE
Comment:Leaked report shocks south Africa: While thousands of foreign visitors converged on South Africa to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela, President Jacob Zuma was struggling to shake off the implications of a leaked report by the Public Prosecutor into a colossal waste of public funds.
Author:Nevin, Tom
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Words:1231
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