Crackdown on school builders

2012-04-18 00:00

POORLY performing contractors will be blacklisted and legal loopholes will be tightened so that schools do not sit with unfinished structures while disputes drag on in the courts.

These were some of several measures discussed in the KZN Legislature yesterday to unblock delays in infrastructure delivery.

The KZN Education Department appeared before the finance portfolio committee to discuss their infrastructural woes. Also summoned were two implementing agents that built schools for the department and were criticised by the Auditor-General for their poor performance.

They were Ithala and the Independent Development Trust (IDT).

Education director-general Dr Nkosinathi Sishi told the committee that the audit was from four years ago and that the department no longer used Ithala. IDT was involved with only one project.

Education MEC Senzo Mchunu was frank with the committee, saying that the core function of his department was pupils and teachers, not construction work.

He described a litany of school infrastructure woes, including the case of a school in Mid-Illovo that was never completed while the contractor was driving around in a Range Rover.

He said there was evidence that contractors were using money paid out on contracts for themselves instead of the projects.

He said the communities saw things such as a builder getting a second car or using the money to get a second or third wife.

Mchunu told of a school in Nongoma that took the contractor eight months to build and was left incomplete.

It then took another couple of months for the principal to beg the contractor to go back to finish the work. Eventually another contractor was called in and spent a further eight months rectifying the mess.

The MEC said the entire situation had to be reviewed as the state was wasting too much time and money on errant contractors.

He said the department also needed to concentrate on its core mandate instead of getting caught up in the difficulties of dealing with poor infrastructure delivery.

Finance committee chairperson Belinda Scott told Mchunu that he had concretised their concerns and that there was a major effort under way to review and change infrastructure development in the province.

She said the Health Department, which appeared before the committee on Friday, had similar concerns and the aim was for quality in government infrastructure development and value for money.

Matters and suggestions that have been under discussion within the committee include:

• The Public Works Department (PWD) had already developed a three-year plan to show how it was going to improve staff and take charge of infrastructure development in the province.

• All plans in future will have to be passed by PWD, which will monitor development, and buildings will only be handed over to departments once they are checked by the PWD.

• Protocols are to be developed to tighten legal loopholes so that matters do not languish in the courts while buildings stand vacant.

• There will be greater co-ordination and co-operation with the provincial infrastructure coordinating team, the crack infrastructure unit (made up of engineers and other experts, PWD and departments.

• Committee members also called for earlier and more effective planning in the three-year financial cycle. Departments like health and education should start planning early where their schools, hospitals and clinics are to be built.

Scott told the PWD that the ball was now in its court.

“You have to get us out of this, speed up and improve infrastructure delivery,” she said.

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