Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela at a briefing on Monday during which she bemoaned attacks against her office and her report on Nkandla by members of the government. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

PUBLIC Protector Thuli Madonsela on Monday put up a spirited defence of her report into President Jacob Zuma’s private Nkandla residence, saying attacks against her were full of inaccuracies and misinformation.

The state’s criticism of her findings into spending at the residence eroded the standing of her office, she warned.

"Our ability to strengthen constitutional democracy is being eroded," she said.

A visit to Nkandla by MPs last month after Police Minister Nathi Nhleko exonerated Mr Zuma from paying back any money towards upgrades resulted in a fresh series of attacks on Ms Madonsela’s office and her report released last year, which found that Mr Zuma and his family had unduly benefited from non-security features.

In a damning statement directed at Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete, Ms Madonsela took on the government for quoting selectively from her report, misinterpreting the laws governing her office — which is a chapter 9 institution — bickering about her findings and attacks on her person.

She addressed Ms Mbete as Parliament’s ad hoc committee on Nkandla refused to give her an opportunity to appear before it after members of the committee criticised her findings. Though the ad hoc committee itself had said it was not reviewing her report, its members constantly attacked her findings, making "selective references" to some of them.

"The rule of law … does not allow anyone to edit any of the constitutionally imposed institutions out of the public accountability path," she said.

She appealed to Ms Mbete to halt the process and called for meaningful discussion with her office instead of the current "vitriolic attacks" from politicians.

To back up her claim of growing disregard for her office, Ms Madonsela cited an instance of a national government official who responded to a detailed report by her with two paragraphs, indicating that the department would take up the issue directly with the complainant who had sought relief from her office. Ms Madonsela said this and other examples showed a worrying trend of "defiance". She expressed concern over the "safety" and "value" of her office being eroded.

Complaints her office received from the public had dropped and she feared that with no recourse to correct injustices against the public and youth, anger could result in unrest.

In a prompt reply the African National Congress (ANC) in Parliament repeated many of the criticisms expressed by their MPs last month and urged Ms Madonsela to allow the ad hoc committee to conclude its work. She detailed 10 aspects of her Nkandla report on which she had been attacked by MPs and responded in detail to each one.

She said Mr Zuma should have halted the upgrades in 2009 when it emerged that there were possible irregularities. She further highlighted a section of her report on an "apportionment document" compiled by then deputy public works minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu which showed that the government task team implementing the project had apportioned costs for which Mr Zuma should have been responsible. Her finding of an "undue benefit" on his part was not targeting Mr Zuma as has been claimed and not due to an "act or commission" by him, but was in line with her investigation on whether there was irregular spending on the project.

"Public servants return monies to government regularly where such monies were overpaid to them by mistake, fault on their part is not a requirement," she said.

The classification of certain items as security and nonsecurity items: she indicated that the swimming pool was in fact described as such in minutes of meetings held to plan the upgrades by the government’s implementing team itself as well as by Ms Bogopane-Zulu’s apportionment document. This document stated that there was a request from the Presidency to convert the fire pool into a swimming pool, which was done. It also indicated an amount to be paid by Mr Zuma for the conversion.

Similarly, it was government officials who described the amphitheatre as having dual purposes — a gathering place and a soil retention wall. Turning the retention wall into an amphitheatre came with extra costs. Ms Madonsela said whether the swimming pool was dirty or the visitors centre too small — as described by MPs after their visit — was irrelevant. Her job had been to investigate whether there was authority to construct the items in a security upgrade and not to assess maintenance.

On Mr Nhleko’s report, Ms Madonsela said there was no legal basis for a member of the executive to review her findings or re-investigate the matter.

Ms Madonsela said taking the government to court for contempt over Nkandla would be an "extreme" decision, but she was seeking legal opinion and her team was "putting their heads together" on the matter.