40 000 unsafe RDP houses

2009-11-21 13:41

The demolition of an RDP home is not an easy thing to watch. There is a sickening feeling in one’s stomach as workers whip out their crowbars and attack the simple structure as if it was a wounded animal.

And by the time the bulldozer has moved into position and flattened a R50 000 home as if it had been made of paper, it feels more like a funeral than a demolition.

Why, you wonder, do they have to come down?

The sad reality is that many of the 2.8?million Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) homes funded by government since 1994 have such severe ­structural problems, it is better to destroy them than allow them to continue standing.

Some even pose a threat to those who live in them and, as one newspaper put it this week, “rather knock it down than have it collapse on you while you are sleeping”.

More than 40?000 RDP homes across the country need rectification of some form or another right now. Some were built less than six years ago. Repairing them will cost R1.3?billion this financial year.

Not all these homes need to be destroyed?– the scope of this year’s rectification programme ranges from the rebuilding of a supporting wall to complete reconstruction; but still, the R1.3?billion spent on ­rectification means R1.3?billion less for new houses.

How did we land up in this situation? What caused this?

A range of reasons has already been put forward to the national ­audit task team announced by ­Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale in East London this week.

At the core is growing evidence that dishonest or unqualified ­business people successfully offered “incentives” to government officials to ensure they were given business – with a tragic effect on the quality of housing delivered.

As a result:

Contracts were awarded to companies which clearly did not have the skills, commitment or ­experience;

Vital steps in the planning and building process – such as checking soil and rock condition – were skipped or glossed over, either ­because of inexperience or haste;

Gaps emerged in the quality-control process, and in some cases building quality was sacrificed for quantity – with those responsible for quality control turning a blind eye to defects in the rush to finalise projects – or in the rush to enrich themselves and others; and

Approved contractors may have sub-contracted work to smaller companies which were not qualified to do the job.
The net effect of this, as Sexwale put it, is “a national shame” – a situation which has resulted in millions of rands being diverted from the construction of new homes to the ­reconstruction of existing ones.

But the shame must be brought to an end, and soon.

Sexwale has made it clear through the appointment of his task team that he is “serious about putting a stop to dodgy deals”.
The task team initiative is, essentially, a focused anti-corruption drive against everyone involved in the construction of government-subsidised homes – whether government officials or government-appointed contractors. It leaves, as Sexwale says, no place to hide.

For those who are found guilty, their fate is clear: “We won’t pay those companies that we find ­culpable,” the minister has said.

“We will withdraw their trading licences. We want to blacklist them?– we want to close their companies down and send them to jail, where they will be joined by the officials they have bribed.”

Many lessons will be learned in the process – lessons which will be transferred right through to the way home-building takes place in the ­future.

We can expect changes to the system to ensure the elimination of kickbacks, dodgy deals, cutting corners and contractors walking away from their responsibilities.

We can expect the beefing-up of government’s building inspection capacity.

Expect also the naming and ­shaming of those who have exploited the poor.

Expect a co-ordinated effort to ­ensure that there is integrity around housing waiting lists and the entire housing subsidy system.

Expect ongoing action – criminal and civil – against those who have fleeced the fiscus.

As Sexwale put it this week: “It is not enough to just fix the problem: we have to fix the people who caused the problem.”

Vick is special adviser to the Minister of Human Settlements

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