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Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were or­dered by min­is­ters, direc­tors-gen­eral and a state se­cu­rity of­fi­cer to de­stroy doc­u­ments re­lated to the Nkandla project. This is what of­fi­cials of the pub­lic works depart­ment will tes­tify when they face de­part­men­tal dis­ci­plinary hear­ings to ac­count for the wastage of pub­lic money in the con­tro­ver­sial R246 mil­lion up­grade to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s Nkandla res­i­dence.

At least three of the 13 of­fi­cials be­ing charged claim they were or­dered by min­is­ters, direc­tors-gen­eral and a se­nior de­part­men­tal se­cu­rity of­fi­cer to de­stroy all ev­i­dence of what was raised at se­cret meet­ings to dis­cuss the Nkandla project.

The ac­cused of­fi­cials say they and their col­leagues were told to leave no pa­per trail or record­ings of many “spe­cial” Nkandla meet­ings held dur­ing the con­struc­tion pe­riod.

The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity as they are fac­ing dis­ci­plinary hear­ings and are yet to for­mally present their ev­i­dence be­fore the hear­ing.

The charges against the 13 of­fi­cials in­clude fi­nan­cial mis­con­duct, al­low­ing ir­reg­u­lar spend­ing and fail­ing to follow ten­der pro­ce­dures.

Three gov­ern­ment de­part­ments – pub­lic works, de­fence and po­lice – were in­ti­mately in­volved in the up­grades. The of­fi­cials were not spe­cific about the in­di­vid­u­als who gave the or­ders, say­ing the in­for­ma­tion will be handed to the hear­ing.

Among the damn­ing claims be­ing made by the of­fi­cials are that:

Be­fore they en­tered meet­ings, they were in­structed to leave phones in their cars so no record­ings could be made;

Per­sonal notes had to be left be­hind when the meet­ings were over so no writ­ten record could leave the room;

Or­ders were given that no record­ing be made at some progress meet­ings and site meet­ings; and

Or­ders were given that record­ings must be stopped after only a few seconds or min­utes of a meet­ing’s com­mence­ment.

“We had to lock our phones in our cars. We weren’t even al­lowed to take them in and switch them off. They said it was top se­cret and noth­ing could be recorded,” said one of the ac­cused.

In­di­ca­tions are that the 13 of­fi­cials, who have been dubbed the Nkandla scape­goats, will be forced to take all the blame for the mas­sive es­ca­la­tion in the cost of the project, as there has been no men­tion of ac­tion against the min­is­ters and three pub­lic works di­rec­tors­gen­eral who presided over the pe­riod of con­struc­tion. This de­spite the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor’s hard-hit­ting find­ings about their roles.

The 13 of­fi­cials will tes­tify that in sev­eral meet­ings, both min­is­ters and direc­tors-gen­eral or­dered ac­tions that were in­con­sis­tent with ten­der pro­ce­dures.

The of­fi­cials car­ried out the or­ders and took short cuts with pro­ce­dures and ap­point­ments of con­trac­tors after they were al­legedly threat­ened with los­ing their jobs.

Min­is­ters and direc­tors-gen­eral in­volved in the project de­nied to the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­gat­ing Unit (SIU) that they were at most of th­ese meet­ings or that they gave or­ders that mea­sures or pro­ce­dures should be dis­re­garded.

City Press un­der­stands the of­fi­cials will in­sist that the travel doc­u­ments and itin­er­ar­ies of all the min­is­ters in­volved in the project for the past five years be pro­duced. This, they say, will pro­vide proof that they did at­tend many of th­ese meet­ings.

While there are in­com­plete min­utes of a hand­ful of the at least 28 Nkandla progress meet­ings held since 2009, there is ap­par­ently no record of nu­mer­ous se­cret Nkandla meet­ings. The ac­cused of­fi­cials say the com­plete min­utes and records of all the Nkandla meet­ings would show min­is­ters and direc­tors-gen­eral or­dered that Zuma’s pri­vate ar­chi­tect, Mi­nenhle Makhanya, must be ap­pointed as Nkandla prin­ci­pal project head – al­legedly at Zuma’s re­quest. Ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor’s Nkandla re­port, Makhanya earned R16.6 mil­lion from the project. The SIU is claim­ing R155.3 mil­lion from Makhanya, which he must ei­ther pay him­self or claim back from the other con­trac­tors he was over­see­ing.

The of­fi­cials and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives say the ban on record­ings and minute-tak­ing dur­ing meet­ings on the Nkandla up­grade and the de­struc­tion of some doc­u­ments ex­plains why the SIU could find no record of many meet­ings.

The SIU could not trace any sound record­ings of 2009 meet­ings and could find traces of only four record­ings of 2010 meet­ings.

Record­ings done in 2011 were of­ten only a few seconds or a few min­utes long. Other record­ings found were ir­rel­e­vant to the Nkandla project.

“De­spite ex­ten­sive in­quiries and ef­forts, which would have shed more light on what ac­tu­ally hap­pened dur­ing the up­grad­ing process, we were not able to trace a num­ber of doc­u­ments,” reads the SIU’s Nkandla re­port.

Some of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Jean Rin­del, the pub­lic works depart­ment’s Nkandla project man­ager, al­ready ap­peared be­fore dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tees in Dur­ban this week.

The hear­ings of the ac­cused were meant to be held be­hind closed doors, but Me­dia24 (own­ers of City Press) brought a suc­cess­ful ap­pli­ca­tion on Tues­day to at­tend Rin­del’s hear­ing and to re­port on it.

Me­dia24 will also bring ap­pli­ca­tions to at­tend the other 12 hear­ings.

Twelve of the 13 of­fi­cials are be­ing rep­re­sented by Claude Naicker, Kwa-Zulu-Natal’s man­ager of the Pub­lic Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion (PSA).

This week’s hear­ings were post­poned to al­low the PSA time to pre­pare prop­erly.

Phillip Masilo, the le­gal ad­viser to the min­is­ter of pub­lic works, said he wasn’t aware of the al­le­ga­tions.

“They are given the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain them­selves in the hear­ing.

“They must go to the hear­ing and ex­plain that to the chair­per­son. We can’t com­ment on the va­lid­ity [of their claims].”

He ques­tioned the tim­ing of the rev­e­la­tions, adding that they had a chance to make th­ese claims to the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor or in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the SIU.

He also said they should pro­vide ev­i­dence to sub­stan­ti­ate their case.

Ev­i­dence is ex­pected to be heard from mid-De­cem­ber un­til at least March next year.

We’ had ’to lock our phones in our cars. We weren’t even al­lowed to take them in and switch them off. They said it was top se­cret and noth­ing could be recorded

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