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'You are sleeping on the job': EFF to public works minister De Lille

The cabinet, from the president down, simply cannot think beyond their own political survival, says the writer. File photo.
The cabinet, from the president down, simply cannot think beyond their own political survival, says the writer. File photo.
Image: GCIS

Opposition parties have criticised public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille, saying she was failing in her job and that while her department holds the key to unlocking a booming construction industry, she was failing to turn it.

“You are sleeping on the job minister De Lille,” was the EFF’s assertion.

From the so-called washing line fence, a reference to the failed R37m Beitbridge border fence project, to crumbling infrastructure and alleged failure to manage state property, MPs were not impressed with De Lille’s performance.

The DA’s shadow minister for public works and infrastructure Samantha Graham-Maré said it was astounding that De Lille had evaded any censure, despite the Beitbridge fence project arising from a directive signed by her.

“And, we cannot forget about the fire at parliament in January this year. The fact that there were warnings of potential fire risks to the parliamentary precinct in the BDO report, commissioned by the minister, and nothing was done to address them, should raise red flags, as should the reported lack of fire equipment maintenance and the failure of the sprinklers and fire alarm to activate.

“Instead, the only measure of accountability has been in the disciplinary action taken by SAPS. Not one person from the DPWI has been held accountable, though facilities management of parliament is the responsibility of public works,” she said.

Graham-Maré highlighted that in the department’s annual performance plan for the next financial year, only two outcomes are listed under “administration” in the property management trading entity (PMTE) for the next financial year, “spend of the allocated budget” and “percentage financial performance level”.

“One would think that spending your budget would be a given. Not exactly something you would need to write down officially as a reminder for an entity with a budget of R18.3 billion for the next financial year. But that is exactly the case with the PMTE,” she said.

Graham-Maré said it could be because the entity had managed to spend only between 82% and 93% of their budget over the past five years.

“They need prompting. And yet, it is this entity that receives the largest chunk of cash allocated to the department of public works and infrastructure.”

The PMTE is the entity responsible for the property portfolio of the government and is responsible for construction project management and infrastructure build.

“And, unsurprisingly, it is this entity that is responsible for facilities management. Of the money that the PMTE did spend in the latest financial year, 59% of its budget was spent on operating and leases and a mere 28% on repairs and maintenance.

“In other words, this entity spends twice as much money on other people’s property than it does on maintaining the properties for which it is the custodian,” said Graham-Mare.

Even their leasing operation was poorly handled, especially after De Lille’s instruction that the department cease paying month-to-month leases, she said.

Graham-Mare said the department was also paying scant attention to the steadily worsening state of its properties.

“Not only are they being vandalised and falling into disrepair, but they are also devaluing the neighbouring properties of private citizens as well as affecting the safety, security, and quality of life of the communities in which the properties are located,” she said.

Rejecting De Lille’s budget, the EFF’s Naledi Chirwa said the department was hoarding land for no apparent reasons.

Chirwa said in 2019 the department reported that there were 3,653 agricultural state land parcels available for redistribution, and the extent of these land parcels was about 2.9-million hectares.

“Today, most of this land is still lying fallow, and the department has done absolutely nothing to ensure that the land gets released for productive purposes to those black people who need it,” she said.

She criticised the department for leasing property from private entities on behalf of other government departments, paying millions every month for functions that it should be performing on its own.

Among the leased properties are police stations and other strategic key points for the state, she said. “If we cannot build our own police stations to secure the country, what purpose does this department serve?”

Chirwa said the most horrific of the department’s failures was the inability to maintain a proper register of its assets.

“Across the country, there are thousands of state buildings owned by the department that are thoroughly dilapidated, with no hope of ever being fixed because the department has no record of them.

She said as the department was the custodian of expropriation legislation and even though the Expropriation Bill is yet to be passed into law, there was nothing stopping the department from expropriating land and building, even at a price.

“There are literally thousands of derelict buildings across the country that could be expropriated and refurbished for student accommodation and to be used as houses for the homeless,” said Chirwa.

The ANC appeared to be happy with De Lille.

Chair of the DPWI portfolio committee Nolitha Ntobongwana (ANC) said De Lille and her deputy Noxolo Kiviet have introduced a culture of change in the department and its entities.

“This culture of change has equally been reinforced by a process of heightened oversight by the portfolio committee. This has also been focus of the sixth parliament to eliminate the effects of state capture and corruption in all departments and entities,” she said.


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