R47.5m paid for 5km road

2013-04-21 14:00

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Over a 5km stretch of North West road, wasteful expenditure has cost taxpayers R47.5?million – and counting.

Three government construction projects lie along the stretch, which takes travellers to the Skilpadhek border post separating South Africa and Botswana.

Contracts for the three projects were all fast-tracked in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, which the department of public works’ legal adviser, Phillip Masilo, describes as “the looting period”.

Officials from the department are implicated in the misspending.

Five kilometres before you reach the border post, on Lobatse Road, you pass empty tracts of land, earmarked for houses in a R374?million public works project that never got off the ground – though R33?million was spent on it.

That amount excludes about R11?million the department paid to the construction company for insurance purposes.

The project was cancelled after Mvela Phanda Construction (not to be confused with Tokyo Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda) deemed the land unsuitable for any building project.

This was after it discovered the ground – the site of a former mine – was full of sinkholes.

It is not clear why the department’s research into the viability of the land for development did not reveal this.

Public works says it is investigating, and is now suing its former acting director-general, Solly Malebye, and Mvela Phanda.

In papers before the North Gauteng High Court, the department is claiming R50?million from them.

It argues Malebye “intentionally” paid Mvela Phanda, knowing the department did not owe the company any money for cancelling the contract.

Malebye and Mvela Phanda – which has since been bought by construction company Basil Read – have refused to repay the money.

Malebye argues he did nothing wrong and the department had agreed to the cancellation fee.

Said Masilo: “Before the World Cup, government wanted to improve borders before the influx of people. The Skilpadhek project was going to be a residential area for people working on the border. When the department looked at the settlement paid to Mvela Phanda, it was clear the department was not supposed to pay a cent.”

Drive on a little and you reach the Skilpadhek border. Here, two projects have ground to an expensive halt.

In 2008, construction started on a new border-post structure meant to make Skilpadhek more user-friendly.

Its cost was estimated at R205?million and the project was supposed to finish before June 2010.

But the tender was awarded in 2008, at a cost of R244?million. Since then, that figure has grown by R18?million – and work is still not finished.

The new deadline is July, but workers at the site told City Press this would not be met either.

At the same spot, there’s an office block, which was supposed to house border-post officials.

The Special Investigating Unit found R3.5?million was paid to a project-management firm, Karabo Joint Venture, without any supporting documents.

Masilo said seven senior officials from the department were facing disciplinary action for authorising the payments for this project without documents.

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