The state’s R160m white elephant

Johannesburg - A R160m government building in Mpumalanga that was meant to store crucial documents has now been virtually abandoned, according to City Press.

The state-of-the-art Mpumalanga Archives and Records building in Nelspruit stands deserted, with only a few security guards posted outside. It was completed four years ago amid controversy over an irregular procurement process that saw the initial construction price shooting up from R94.2m to R161.8m.

Most of the offices in the building are fully furnished, but the building has already started to show signs of decay. The garden outside is unkempt and overgrown with weeds.

Various provincial government departments use the building to host functions, but the failure to train enough officials in the art of record-keeping means that it is now an expensive white elephant.

The Mpumalanga culture, sport and recreation department only managed to train and employ five of the 32 staff members required to run the archives and record-keeping unit.

When the provincial government started the project in 2008, it sent officials to Australia and Singapore to learn about archiving and record-keeping.

The DA last week put parliamentary questions to culture, sport and recreation MEC Norah Mahlangu to find out when the building would become fully operational.

Culture, sport and recreation spokesperson Sibongile Nkosi said the department was still establishing the archives unit and putting systems in place.

“We do not have a full staff complement yet, as archives is a new unit. There is also a process for documents to be transferred. Training is being conducted in departments, municipalities and parastatals for their staff to understand how it works,” Nkosi said.

The building became the centre of a tender controversy when, in 2008, the Mpumalanga public works department awarded the construction contract to Lumkani Construction/Stefanutti Stocks – which was linked to Premier David Mabuza’s former wife, Ruth Silinda – without the tender being advertised.

The irregularities were exposed by the province’s Integrity Management Unit.

In its report, the unit found that when the tender was initially awarded to Ilima Projects, construction costs stood at R94m.

But it was discovered, after the tender had been awarded, that Ilima Projects had an invalid tax certificate and was, therefore, disqualified.

The public works department then decided to award the tender to Lumkani/Stefanutti, which had initially been appointed to do earthworks.

This was done without reopening the tender process, with the department citing fears that rain would have damaged the site if it had gone through another lengthy procurement process.

Mabuza appointed a commission of inquiry in 2009 to conduct another investigation into the archives building tender. The commission also had to investigate the construction of the Disaster Management Centre, built next door to the archives building, where procurement irregularities cost government R20m more than it had budgeted for.

The commission, headed by Magistrate Naomi Engelbrecht, recommended that an amount of R42.2m be recovered from consultants and public works officials involved in the archives building project. It found that the total cost should have at most increased by 13% instead of 45%.

The commission also found that advice from provincial Treasury to the culture, sport and recreation department to stop the project because of budget shortfalls fell on deaf ears.

Mabuza’s spokesperson, Zibonele Mncwango, did not respond to questions about whether disciplinary action was taken against implicated officials, or if the money had been recovered as recommended by the commission.

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