Public works turnaround 'on track'

2012-05-08 22:40
Cape Town - Great strides are being made with the public works department's turn-around strategy, Minister Thulas Nxesi said on Tuesday.

Speaking in the National Assembly during debate on his budget vote, he said it was an indictment of the department that comprehensive, reliable, and compliant registers of the immovable assets of the department and other custodians did not exist.

However, great strides were being made.

Department officials were working closely with auditing firm Ernst and Young on a desk-top exercise to reconcile deeds records and other existing databases to identify gaps.

This project would be completed by the end of the month.

Cleansing all gaps identified, accompanied by physical verification of selected properties in the cleansed database, would take a further year.

"Currently, we are talking about some 35 000 properties, so even my quick win takes a year to complete," Nxesi said.

Cleaning the immovable assets register allowed the department to complete the devolution of some 50 000 properties to provinces and fast-track the vesting process across the board.

"The availability of consistent and reliable data also facilitates the optimal use of state assets for policy objectives."

Serious irregularities

Turning to the stabilisation project of building leases, he said there were no quick wins on leases.

"Years of poor management, under-capacity, and lack of financial controls have provided fertile terrain for fraud and corruption."

Serious irregularities had come to light, thanks to the detailed work of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Twenty-two such leases had already been identified in one region alone, involving payments of over R64m, he said.

This included leases where the department paid for the duration of leases without the building being occupied.

"We have instructed our lawyers to approach the high court to nullify these irregular lease agreements and institute civil actual against whoever unduly benefited."

Criminal cases were being opened against several officials and more were expected. Criminal investigations had been completed and arrests were imminent.

The National Treasury and the department were jointly auditing all current leases to further identify irregular leases, collect money owed to the department, establish a reliable lease register, and review and strengthen systems.

"For the review of leases, we expect a completion period of 12 months," Nxesi said.

Briefing the media earlier, he said it was too late to try and change the department's audit outcome for the past financial year.

"Too little, too late has been done to fundamentally change the audit outcome for financial year 2011/12... that is why for the current year that has just commenced we are employing additional capacity," he said.

Positive results from the department could be expected only by mid-year, when the interim audit results were presented by the Auditor General.

"[The department] is still in ICU but we are now stopping the bleeding and stabilising the patient before deciding on the appropriate long-term treatment.

"Of course a successful turn-around depends on getting the right people in the right places and capacitating and using the people we have optimally," Nxesi said.

Read more on:    public works  |  thulas nxesi

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