Cash spat keeps school loos locked

2014-06-15 15:01

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Thousands of Limpopo pupils are walking past brand-new, clean, flushing toilets to relieve themselves in bushes or pit toilets?– all because contractors are waiting to be paid by the provincial government.

Furious contractors have locked the new buildings or simply abandoned the ­half-finished projects, saying that although they do not want to leave children in the lurch, they cannot keep working without any payment.

The department says it has now finalised payment through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which was managing the contractors,?but only after City Press had asked questions.

The building drive was prompted by ­­six-year-old Michael Komape’s horror death in January at his school in Chebeng village outside Polokwane.

Authorities believe Michael fell into a pit toilet after the rusted metal seat gave way under him. His school, Mahlodumela Primary, received brand-new Enviro Loo toilets after his death and the provincial government set aside more than R200?million for urgent upgrades to the sanitation of schools.

The project, conducted through the CSIR, covered 50 schools in Limpopo’s Vhembe and Mopani districts with one contractor for each site.

A source with intimate knowledge of the project said that about 90% of the toilets had been completed and were ready to use.

A contractor who spoke on condition of anonymity said he had spent about R250?000 of his own money to build toilets at a school in the Vhembe district.

“I haven’t fully paid my workers. I owe the bank and the interest is mounting and there is still no hope that I am going to be paid any time soon,” he said.

“I can’t hand over the toilets or let the children use them because I have not received a cent for them.

“It breaks my heart to see the children passing by the ready-to-use toilets and running into the bushes or into very old, hazardous and smelly toilets.”

Limpopo education department spokesperson Jack Mokobi said the department was still under administration and that everything needed to be approved by administrator Mzwandile Matthews.

Mokobi said the department was aware of the outstanding payments, but “we can’t process any payment until it has been approved by the administrator”.

Last Wednesday, Matthews called an urgent meeting with the CSIR after the questions posed by City Press.

“Payment of contractors is an issue affecting the completion of work. The CSIR has been informed by the department that the outstanding payment is scheduled for June 10 2014 and we will prioritise the payment of contractors upon receipt of the funding,” said CSIR spokesperson Tendani Tsedu after the meeting.

On Thursday, Tsedu said the CSIR had received confirmation of payment and that the money should reflect in its accounts by Friday.

“Our finance department is ready to pay the contractors the moment the money reflects on our side,” he said.

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