Free State ‘bankrupts’ builder

2017-03-12 06:01
The block of toilets at Kgutliso Primary School that was built by Sarah Shezi in 2006. She claims she has not been paid for her work by the Free State government. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

The block of toilets at Kgutliso Primary School that was built by Sarah Shezi in 2006. She claims she has not been paid for her work by the Free State government. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

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*This article was updated on 14/03/2017 to reflect the department's statement (see below)

"Is this how the new South Africa exercises the empowerment of women?” asks tearful builder Sarah Shezi, who lost everything she had while fighting a decade-long losing battle to get the Free State government to pay her.

The 61-year-old contractor is accusing the Free State public works and infrastructure department of defrauding her of about R1.3m after it refused to pay her for a building project at Kgutliso Primary School in Clocolan.

Shezi said she had worked on the project from 2006 to 2007, during which she built toilets and classrooms.

In December 2006, a month before the project was to be completed, the project management office allegedly asked her to build three extra toilet blocks and a walkway, which were not included in the initial project documents.

She said she demanded a variation order – an official document authorising additions to her original project – but was assured by a senior provincial official that the paperwork would be sorted out and that the payment would be honoured.

She built the additional structures – a decision she has regretted for 10 years and that has since bankrupted her.

Shezi told City Press: “First, I was told that the principal was already on holiday, so I refused to continue working and suggested that the project be halted until January 2007, when the principal’s office reopened.

"However, I was urged by management to continue working despite the incomplete paperwork.”

Mounting debts

Shezi tried to approach the then head of the provincial public works and infrastructure department, Makhosini Msibi, to demand a variation order for the changes and additions to the project.

However, Msibi, who is now the CEO of the Road Traffic Management Corporation, was on leave at the time.

She then approached Strover Maganedisa, whose role at the time was to assist the head of department’s office with reporting.

He has since joined National Treasury. Maganedisa allegedly advised her to continue with the project, despite not having a variation order.

“Maganedisa told me that government would pay me as soon as I was done with the project. He said government would not let me down,” she said.

Shezi said she then continued working and managed to finish the entire project, including the additional toilets and walkway, by January 2007.

But instead of being paid, she was left with mounting debts to several supplier companies.

Maganedisa denied any knowledge of making such an undertaking on behalf of the department, adding that he did not even remember Shezi.

“The complainant is not telling the truth ... I didn’t give her verbal instructions to do additional work, nor was I permitted to give or approve variations of work.

"I resigned from the department in August 2006 and I don’t remember the complainant,” he said.

"I have nothing"

City Press saw the classrooms and the toilet facilities that Shezi built, which are still in good condition and are being used daily by pupils.

Shezi said after months of failing to settle her bills, and with the provincial government not interested in talking to her about its outstanding balance, she was taken to court by SA Timber in 2008, after which she lost her business and assets, including a bakkie.

In 2012, she was evicted from her house in Panorama in Bethlehem by Cooper Trust over unpaid debts to SA Timber.

Two years later, her husband died, which forced her to move in with her son in Bohlokong township.

“I have nothing. Seeing my house [auctioned off] just brought me sorrow and grief. All I do now is cry and wonder why this happened to me,” she said.

After receiving Shezi’s documents, Bandile Ntombela, the senior manager of information and communication technology at the Free State department of public works and infrastructure, told City Press that the department had begun scrutinising Shezi’s paperwork and that a thorough appraisal would be carried out.

“We now have all the project documentation. We are perusing these for answers,” Ntombela said.

“Most of the role players mentioned by Shezi have left our department, so we cannot answer on their behalf. The matter is being assessed. Please bear with us,” he said.

Oupa Segalwe, spokesperson for Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, told City Press that, although the office was not aware of the case, the matter warranted a probe, which would be instituted.

“I have forwarded the matter to our intake division and brought it to the attention of the Public Protector. We will take it from here,” he said.

Department regrets ‘personal financial prejudice’

The Free State department of public works and infrastructure has released a statement clarifying the dispute between it and Sarah Shezi, who took to the media after a decade-long battle with the department. 

In response to the above article and the complaint, the department said the following:

In 2006, the department of public works and infrastructure, formerly known as the department of public works, roads and transport, appointed Messrs. Afeng Consulting Engineers as the consulting engineers in the project managers, architects, structural engineers and civil engineers trades. 

The project entailed the construction of three new classrooms and an ablution block.

Following tender processes, as required by the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), Messrs. NgwanaShezi Buildnet, herewith referred to as ‘NM Shezi’ was appointed as the main contractor to provide three blocks of classrooms with a lab and three toilet blocks, at a contract value of R2 085 113.07 for six months.

A dispute arose between the contractor (NM Shezi) and the consultant (Afeng Consulting Engineers) regarding several delays in the completion of the project. 

The department facilitated a meeting between the two parties to assist them in to resolving the matter and for the project to be completed. A meeting took place in July 2007 between the department, NM Shezi and Afeng Consulting. It is at this meeting that it was determined that:
- The contractor had not accurately quoted on the bill of materials, i.e.
- Under quoted the amount bricks that were needed for three blocks of classrooms;
- changed from raft to much cheaper strip foundations to cut costs;
- contractor rates were too low;
- the foundations were built out of scope (600mm depth of contract, instead of 300mm);
- the windows were not included in the Bill of Quantities and the computer room boards and door were underpriced;
- The contractor had not paid the electrical sub-contractor, even though the monies for the electrical work were paid to the contractor by the consultant; and
- The quality of the work on the toilets was unacceptable to the consultant.

Despite these challenges, the department and Afeng Consulting agreed to pay the NM Shezi for the work that was done until that point in time, even though five months had lapsed without progress on site.

Due to the contractor not having sufficient funds available to complete the project, at the recommendation of the department’s chief quantity surveyor, the contractor was terminated.

In terms of the general conditions for contract for construction works (GCC) 2004, as published by the Construction Industry Development Board, a variation is defined as:

“Alteration to the nature or extent of construction works, or the conditions under which they will be carried out) is ordered by the engineer when he wants to:
• Add to or reduce the work
• Change the nature of the work, or
• Change the way the work is done.”

The GCC asserts that the Variation Order (VO) must be given in writing, and in the event the VO is not in writing, the contractor must write the engineer within 14 days to confirming that the order is a

Unfortunately, the department does not have any record of an approved by VO by the accounting officer, nor a letter written to the engineer by the contractor.

The officially cited to have given verbal instructions for the contractor to continue with the variation, was not duly authorised to do so and we are therefore not obliged to comment on such allegations.

Necessary protocols to increase the scope of work are governed by the client’s needs and that process is facilitated and communicated through standing guidelines and channels of such, among others, weekly site meetings, minutes of meeting shared with all site stakeholders, and official one-on-one meetings with related project participants for a specific task in a project.

The department of public works and infrastructure has a proud track record of implementing key infrastructure projects that continue to have an ever-lasting impact of many lives in the province and in the country.

Women contractors will continue to play a critical role in the journey to fundamentally and radically transforming the Built Environment industry, not just as Contractors, but across the entire value chain.
The Department has an emerging contractor development programme through the Expanded Works Programme. The contractor development programme is a structured formal learning programme that intends to develop emerging contractors into sustainable construction entities able to execute labour intensive projects.
The programme will transfer skills to the contractors structured learning programme which is monitored by construction education training authority.

It is regretful that NM. Shezi suffered personal financial prejudice because of this specific project.

We call on all role players in the built environment to familiarize themselves with all legislation and regulations that guide the construction industry.

Read more on:    bloemfontein  |  property

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