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'Nkandla letter is dubious'

Questions are being raised over whether President Zuma knew how much Nkandla would cost.

President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead. Picture: Taurai Maduna/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Public Works has finally broken its silence on the letter that allegedly proves President Jacob Zuma knew about the costs of upgrades to his Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal.

On Sunday, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said Zuma was not informed of costs to upgrade security features at the home, during the planning stages.

"President Zuma is not involved in this process whatsoever," Nxesi told a group of journalists at a special media briefing in Pretoria.

The report revealed that R71 million was spent directly on security, while a further R135 million was spent on operational costs incurred by state departments involved in the upgrade.

Nxesi said operational costs included the running of the clinic, helipad and accommodation for police and the South African National Defence Force, but said further details could not be revealed, citing security reasons.

He told Talk Radio 702 on Monday that the 15 service providers involved were under investigation for possible cost irregularities regarding the operational costs.

"We do not want to jeopardise anything, because we have indicated that if there was collusion, we are going to take legal action. Therefore we cannot start disclosing people's names in the public."

On Monday, the minister's legal advisor, Phillip Masilo, said Public Works had never seen the letter that was apparently sent by then Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, detailing the costs of the upgrades.

But after Eyewitness News sent him a copy, Masilo said the letter's authenticity was dubious.

"It's not clear whether this letter is authentic, whether this letter was sent to the President or whether there was any confirmation of receipt. It is the first time I see that internal memo."

Masilo said such an internal memo would never be sent in that format to the President, and that there was apparently no record of the letter at the department.

But in the same breath, Masilo said proving whether or not the letter was authentic was not a priority.

"There is so much to deal with at Public Works, that a letter like this would be a serious waste of time on our part."

He said such matters should be referred to the police.

Masilo said the journalists who received the letter should come forward with the person who leaked it, as it may be a breach of the President's security.

ZUMA'S SECURITY

Nxesi said Zuma's hands are clean, even though two more reports on the costs of renovations to his Nkandla home are yet to be released.

The Auditor General and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela have also launched investigations into the Nkandla saga.

The Minister said allegations that taxpayers forked out the money for costs were false, and that the state shouldered the overall cost of R206 million only for security upgrades and consultants.

"Wherever the President is, we need to make sure that there is security."

Nxesi also said government was forced to reveal this information due to the massive public outcry around the development.

But he said the report will not be made public.

Meanwhile, opposition parties have not bought into Nxesi's explanation .

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said the report was a poor attempt to protect Zuma from being held accountable.

'NKANDLA IS NOT SPECIAL'

The Minister had previously said that the upgrades at the presidential residence were nothing special, as it was part of upgrades to all the national security sites.

These sites include Tuynhuys, the Union Buildings, Parliament, King's House and former President Nelson Mandela's homes in Houghton and Qunu.

The Minister said the security upgrades were made after a frank assessment of the security threat to the President's compound.

Part of the upgrades also included new sewage systems, road works around the compound and an air crew pavilion amongst other things.

The President has answered questions in parliament related to the compound and said the building of the residence itself, was done by the Zuma family and did not come from state funds.

DE KLERK FOUNDATION REACTION

Meanwhile, the FW De Klerk foundation said there are serious ethical questions around how much money is being spent on the Nkandla upgrade.

In terms of the National Key Points Act, sitting Presidents are entitled to security improvements at their homes.

The foundation's Dave Steward said when de Klerk was in office he too had security upgrades to his official residence.

But said they cost nowhere near what's being spent on Nkandla.

"His goal was not to benefit unduly from the expense of the taxpayers on his security."