R4.7m to build these broken toilets

2015-07-26 06:46
A brand new block of toilets, with 14 cubicles, is completely 
unusable. PHOTO: Leon Sadiki

A brand new block of toilets, with 14 cubicles, is completely unusable. PHOTO: Leon Sadiki

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Ablution blocks, classrooms and administration rooms cost millions more than they should

This is the block of toilets built for the pupils of Ditshipeng Primary School, which cost the state an exorbitant R4.7 million – and don’t work.

The toilets – which the hundreds of pupils at the school outside Kuruman, Northern Cape, cannot use – are just one of many examples of how construction and consulting companies are charging the provincial education department up to four times what they should be to build school infrastructure.

Documents in City Press’ possession reveal that consulting firms – including architects, engineers and quantity surveyors – were paid R45 million in two years, almost half of the R110 million the province has spent on school buildings, not the 18% or less they are supposed to receive.

Now officials in the national basic education department are asking questions and an unofficial investigation is under way into what they got for the R110 million spent on toilets, computer rooms, administration blocks, school hostels and classrooms.

A new block of toilets with 14 cubicles is unusable because of problems
with water pressure and leaky pipes. PHOTO: LeonSadiki

What the documents reveal
The documents show that the provincial education department, working with the Independent Development Trust (IDT), a government implementing agency, paid:

. R4.7 million to a construction company and consultants for a block of 14 toilets at Ditshipeng Primary, R1.5 million of which was paid to consultants;

.  R8 million to a consulting company in Mahikeng for their work on projects valued at R12 million – almost 75% of the project value;

.  R4.5 million to builders and consultants for a 14-toilet block at Mokgolokwe Senior Secondary School in Batlharos – which has exactly the same design as the one at Ditshipeng Primary;

.  R4.8 million paid over to contractors and consultants for five classrooms at Omang Primary in Dithakong, outside Kuruman, which translates to almost R1 million each when the education department threshold is a maximum of R350 000 per classroom;

. R6.1 million to consultants and contractors to build an administration block at Phakane Secondary School in Mothibistad.

Experts told City Press that government has a limit of R2 million on the block, which consists of four offices, a staff room, small kitchen, stationary store, two store rooms, printing and sick rooms, a safe and toilets; and

. R7 million for the same administration block at Pulelo Primary School.

Little value for money
A contractor building schools for the department of education in North West, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a toilet block with 14 cubicles should not cost more than R1 million. The rate for toilets is about R66 000 per unit, he said. And a single classroom should not cost more than R350 000.

A senior official in Northern Cape’s provincial government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no way five classrooms should cost almost R5 million. “Of course, terrain and topography differ, but I know that the department of basic education pays a maximum of R300 000 per class.”

“They don’t pay more than R2 million for a large ablution block,” she said, adding that an administration block would hardly go beyond R3 million.

The consultants, she said, were not justified in charging fees almost half the total value of the contracts.

“They, the Independent Development Trust [IDT] and officials are working together to screw the government. We give them standardised designs for all buildings.

They don’t have to design anything. So why are they charging us this much?” she asked. “The infrastructure unit in the department of education in the Northern Cape is like a den for swindlers.”

A former senior executive at the department of basic education said the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission had been forced to monitor construction prices.

“They have compared prices in the private and public sector and they found that in relation to schools, some companies, especially in Gauteng, were charging upwards of R1 million for a single class. For that amount of money, you can build a decent house. There is massive corruption. Construction companies charge way above industry norms,” he said.

Another former senior official at the department of basic education in the Eastern Cape said consulting companies working for the department should charge even less than the stipulated 18% because the department provided them with ready-made designs.

“The department has designed its own ablution blocks, administration blocks, computer halls, libraries and laboratories. We give consulting companies these standard designs, and they shouldn’t charge like they have to design from scratch. All the designs also have standard fittings and finishes,” he said.

                          Pupils at Ditshipeng Primary School are forced to use dilapidated and rundown pit latrines.

What we found
When City Press arrived at Ditshipeng this week, the toilet block was not working. Pupils were forced to urinate outside in the veld or using old, stinking and dangerous pit latrines.

A teacher who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity said the R4.7 million toilet block, built last year, had never been used.

“I must say that there was poor workmanship; you will see when you go inside. The water just goes through but toilets doesn’t flush. It seems like there is not enough pressure. We have decided not to use them until they are fixed. Not all toilets flush, urinals have problems, and no water is coming into the basins.”

The school has complained to the department, but they have not been fixed.

What the department says
Northern Cape education spokesperson Sydney Stander said the department approved payments based on documentation it received from the IDT.

He said the department had raised concerns about inflated consultants’ fees two years ago.

“We also raised this issue with IDT. A meeting was held with all consultants to discuss these fees. All consultants claimed that their fees were within their respective gazetted rates for their respective professions. The claims according to the consultants were based on the entire project scope,” he said.

Stander said the department asked the IDT to scrutinise one of the consultant’s fees, and the agency reported that it was satisfied with the consultant’s charges.

Although the department was expecting a report on the matter, one had not been forthcoming.

The IDT did not respond to requests for comment.

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