Zuma Watch

Cost of protecting Pres. Zuma rivals Nkandla

Guptagate nightmare not over yet
Ghuptagate.jpg

The cost to taxpayers of the ANC government’s strategy to protect President Jacob Zuma on multiple fronts is already starting to rival the cost of upgrading his Nkandla residence and is set to rise.

By conservative estimations the cost to the state of the various controversies Mr Zuma got embroiled in over the past decade and a bit is approaching R270 million. The cost in terms of legal counsel alone is estimated to be at least R30 million.

And, as the latest withdrawal of disciplinary actions against senior Defence Force staff in the wake of the so-called Guptagate affair proves, it is a strategy doomed to fail. Civil actions are about to follow, in which Mr Zuma would find it almost impossible to stay out of court if subpoenaed.

A similar situation already awaits him on Nkandla front where his personal architect has decided to contest in court the civil claim the state has instituted against him. Not only are details of discussions between him and Mr Zuma set to become public but they will add a good bit to the legal bills of the state.

 In the case of the disciplinary action against officials of the Department of Public Works in connection with the misspending at Nkandla, due to start in February, more details about the implied involvement of members of the executive are bound to come to light.

Representatives of the officials involved have already complained about the outside counsel secured by the state and in the end it might just again end up with civil claims by the officials, as in the case of the Defence Force officers.

 Litany of controversy

 The tendency of Mr Zuma to become involved in controversies dates back to June 2005 when he was charged with corruption in the wake of the conviction of his erstwhile financial adviser on charges related to the infamous arms deal.

He was relieved of his duties as deputy president at the time. Four months later came the first court action by him to keep under wraps information that he did not want to become public or to be used against him. He embarked on court action against the search and seizure of documents related to his prosecution.

 He initially won that round with a favourable court decision in February 2006, only to see it overturned on appeal in November 2007 and the information made available for use in his prosecution, which had been thrown out of court in September 2006.

 During that same period, in July of 2006, he also brought a R60m claim for alleged defamation against a number of newspapers, which he eventually dropped in February of 2008.

 In December of 2007 he was elected president of the ANC, making him president in waiting of the country.

 At the same occasion the ANC took a decision to disband the Scorpions. They were largely responsible for him being prosecuted and it looked likely that his fortunes might change on that front. Zuma would replace the Scorpions with the Special Investigative Unit, appointed by him.

 During that same month corruption charges against him were, however, reinstated after the Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision regarding the seized documents.

The latter matter went to the Constitutional Court in August 2008, which confirmed that the documents could be used in his prosecution. The next month he secured a court decision that the corruption charges against him were invalid on procedural grounds, just to be overturned in January the next year by the Court of Appeal.

 The tactics changed and in April of 2009 the National Prosecuting Authority controversially announced the withdrawal of the charges based on “spy tapes” purported to prove a political conspiracy against Mr Zuma.

 This would lead to another round of costly court actions culminating in the Democratic alliance finally winning access to the tapes in August 2014.

 In the meantime the Government lost another costly legal process started by businessman Hugh Glenister who initially challenged the dissolution of the Scorpions. In August of 2014 the Constitutional Court had to start considering new challenges to the independence of the SIU.

 Along the way there was an unsuccessful attempt at an interdict to prevent the Public Protector from releasing her report on Nkandla, costly internal investigations by a committee of ministers, the South African National Defence Force and the Department of Public Works – all aimed at deflecting blame away from Mr Zuma and at clouding the issues around Nkandla and Guptagate.

 Arms deal

In an apparent attempt to deal with all the ongoing accusations of bribery and corruption, linked to the arms deal, a Commission of Inquiry led by Judge Willie Seriti, was appointed in October 2011.

 This commission announced by the then Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Jeff Radebe, on 27 October 2011, into “allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages”, were subject to controversies of its own.

 The present justice minister, Mike Masutha, in a written reply to a question in parliament by the DA’s David Maynier, late last year revealed that the total cost associated with this commission “as at 30 September 2014 is R83,199 million”.

 By admittance via the SIU investigation into the Nkandla affair, the wasted state money in that instance amounts to R155 million – the amount now claimed from Mr Zuma’s personal architect.

 The Seriti Commission’s costs, Nkandla and a conservative R30 million estimate of the legal costs of the string of court cases associated with all the Zuma-linked controversies add up to a massive R268-plus million. This excludes the salaries and incidental costs of officials involved in all of this and all the linked departmental and other internal investigations.

 Net result

 At the end of all these processes come the civil actions in which not only some of the details of Mr Zuma’s involvement will come into the public domain, but which might also see him having to answer questions in court in person.

 Similarly might erstwhile head of state protocol, Bruce Koloane, who in the wake of the Gupta affair apparently fell on his sword, only to be appointed ambassador to the Netherlands a few months later, be called to testify in civil actions brought by the two officers.

 It has already come to light that one of the officers against whom disciplinary was withdrawn last week, has text messages related to the controversial April 2013 landing of the ‘Gupta plane’ at Waterkloof Air Force Base. Mr Zuma's name is said to appear often in those messages.

 In the case of Nkandla, former surgeon-general Vejay Ramlakan, who reportedly might be going on early retirement following the SANDF probe into the saga, could possibly be subpoenaed to testify in the civil case against the architect.

 After the announcement of the withdrawal of the charges in the disciplinary hearings of the two SANDF officers last week, Freedom Front Plus spokesman on defence, Dr Pieter Groenewald said: “The only reasonable inference, after both officers having to wait 16 months while three separate state-driven investigations were conducted, is that the authorities are too cowardly to have this matter heard in an independent forum such as a court of law.

“This because of fears the material flaws of their own investigations and, more importantly, the top level nepotism and corruption which enabled the aircraft to land at AFB Waterkloof will be exposed.”

 The DA’s shadow minister of defence and military veterans, David Maynier, said the withdrawal of charges proved the JCPS (Justice, Crime Prevention and Security) cluster task team’s investigation into Guptagate was “a carefully crafted damage control exercise designed to firewall Zuma and his Cabinet from the political fall-out generated by the incident”.

Corruption Watch’s executive director, David Lewis, said the withdrawal of the charges “confirms that they were chosen as scapegoats”. He added: “I'm pretty sure exactly the same thing is going to happen with the officials who have been designated to be scapegoated for the Nkandla saga."

For the Zuma administration the nightmare is clearly not over, and for the taxpayer the costs of the fight are set to keep on mounting.

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by Piet Coetzer

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