The Nkandla sinkhole

2014-03-22 00:00

THE money that went into the spending sinkhole of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead should have gone to repairing crumbling government buildings, border control, and protecting against sinkholes.

This week, experts and unions revealed the hijacking of the budgets from crucial programmes to fund luxury upgrades to Zuma’s private home not only harmed service delivery, but put lives at risk.

On Wednesday, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report stated that the Department of Public Works had improperly, and in violation of the Constitution, diverted R58 million from three key programmes, creating a “negative impact” for each.

R20 million was diverted from the Inner City Regeneration project, which is supposed to repair sometimes dangerously dilapidated government buildings, including 16 that required “urgent” work in 2010, when the money was taken.

In December, the Department of Labour’s regional office in Johannesburg was so run down it was condemned by a safety inspector, and all staff were relocated elsewhere.

Another R20 million was taken from the department’s Dolomite Risk Management programme, which uses engineering solutions to protect against sinkhole damage, largely caused by old and leaking water pipes.

According to one Public Works engineering consultant, who asked not to be named, the project had successfully reduced the number of buildings damaged by sinkholes in Gauteng from 50 a year to just five. The engineer said the R20 million loss that year was “significant”.

The SAPS station in Carletonville was abandoned by its staff due to persistent sinkholes, and the problem has never been addressed, while the SAPS racks up a monthly rental cost of R127 000 for private premises its officers use.

Yet another R18 million was taken from the newly formed Border Control agency, which is charged with co-ordinating all 10 government departments and three parastatals that operate at South Africa’s ports of entry. Lack of co-ordination is consistently cited as one of the key obstacles to limiting illegal immigration and smuggling.

The department’s current Annual Performance Plan reveals that it chose these programmes for the axe over other capital works projects like one to establish wheelchair ramps and other access to state-owned buildings, and another, for new office accommodation for the department itself.

Anchen Dreyer, DA spokesperson for public service and administration, said it was a “disgrace” that the Inner City Regeneration programme had been stripped for Nkandla.

“Fixing these buildings is an urgent need, even from a safety point of view,” said Dreyer. “Buildings are falling apart. There is an SAPS building in Durban where the rain is falling through. Even head office buildings in Pretoria are so dilapidated that some departments want to move to outlying areas, but the government wants the inner city areas in Pretoria generally to regenerate, and they want to lead by example.”

She said the Home Affairs building in Randfontein in Gauteng, which has been abandoned by its staff, is one of those which should have been restored through the inner-city programme since 2010.

Instead, she said it had since been stripped of its fittings and is the scene of open squatter fires at night.

Manie de Clercq, spokesperson for the Public Servants Association, said, “You can’t just shift money over that has already been allocated for an important project just because you think it will bring you some goodwill. This is not just a service delivery issue, and, believe me, taxpayers are losing out with these buildings; it’s a safety issue for public servants in many cases. I didn’t know money had diverted from our members’ buildings, which are definitely falling apart, but I am not surprised.”

However, De Clercq said Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi had given a commendably frank and honest briefing to the union last week, in which he laid out a fast-track plan for tackling crumbling buildings.

This week, Madonsela found there was no evidence to support Public Works Department claims that the money diverted from the projects represented “savings”.

She said, “The Inner City Regeneration and Dolomite Risk programmes of the DPW are important as both relate to service delivery and safety issues.

“It was noted that [these] projects on several occasions featured as programmes from which reallocation of funds were made … This was in violation of section 237 of the Constitution and the Batho Pele White Paper and accordingly constitutes improper conduct and maladministration.”

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