De Lille defends R37m Beitbridge border fence tender after backlash

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille. Picture: Adrian de Kock
Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille. Picture: Adrian de Kock

The department of public works and infrastructure has admitted to deviating from proper procurement procedures, by overlooking the requirement to advertise for bids and instead opting to nominate a contractor for the R37 million Beitbridge border fence tender.

Responding to questions from City Press, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille defended the issuing of the R37 176 843.50 tender to Magwa Construction to secure the fence at the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

De Lille cited the current state of emergency as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak as the reason her department deviated from normal procurement procedures, which include advertising the tender in the Government Tender Bulletin.

Her department came under widespread criticism after images on social media showed that the newly installed barbed-wire fence had been vandalised.

“I was advised by the department’s administration that in such emergency situations and in line with emergency procurement measures under the state of disaster, the Treasury regulations permit deviations from ordinary procurement processes.

This includes permitting deviation from the requirement to advertise for bids in the Government Tender Bulletin.

After exploring all available procurement mechanisms permitted in these time-bound circumstances, the department opted to use a nomination process. This is permitted by the Treasury guidelines,” said De Lille.

Her department came under widespread criticism after images on social media showed that the newly installed barbed-wire fence had been vandalised.

Images showed holes in the costly fence installed last month, raising questions about whether such an exorbitant figure could be justified.

Former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, who has been very vocal about the country’s porous borders, weighed in: “When news broke of the damage to this barrier and images emerged, it was nothing short of a R37 million disgrace.

Such a fence should never have cost R1 million/km. It was clearly an effort to pad the pockets of a politically aligned tendreprenuer.”

herman mashaba
Former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba

De Lille denied that the price was inflated, instead she blamed the exorbitant cost on the remoteness of the area and the tight deadline to complete the project because of the pandemic.

“I have noted the concerns from the public and it is correct to hold government to account. I hope that this information provides a greater level of clarity and can assure South Africans that this matter will be a continuous area of collaboration between the departments of defence and home affairs. The Auditor General’s audit processes will unfold, to give affirmation to the country’s citizens.

“In terms of the value of the contract, many have questioned this amount and asked whether it equated to nearly R1 million/km. Unfortunately, the equation is not that simple especially on such a complex project of this magnitude.

“The cost of a project in a remote area differs compared to inland or urban project costs, for the same scope. The complex rates in this project are influenced by acceleration costs – that is short contract period, more labour resources required to do the job, increased speed of provision of material, increased overheads for management and plant equipment,” said De Lille.

She also said a project of this size “would have a construction duration of at least three to four months”. However, to comply with the shorter time frame of one month, the project team had to put measures on site to ensure accelerated delivery in order to meet the demands of the emergency.

The minister added that prior to the issuing of the tender, the department met with the department of defence and military veterans “and agreed on the scope of work under the state of disaster where the department of public works and infrastructure was requested to repair and replace the existing fence”.

However, both the departments of defence and military veterans and home affairs have passed the buck on to De Lille’s department on the controversial tender.

Defence spokesperson Colonel Louis Kirstein said: “Questions pertaining to the erecting and maintenance of the fence on the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe must be forwarded to the department of public works.”

David Hlabane, media manager at home affairs, said: “Please be advised that the issues you’re raising relate to the work of the departments of public works, defence and the police as they pertain to the borderline and criminal damage to the border fence.”

De Lille insisted that necessary checks and balances were followed. “To ensure for responsible procurement oversight, internal approval controls were utilised – in this case the National Bid Adjudication Committee. The method of procurement and the appointment of the service provider was vetted and approved by the committee before the appointment letters were issued,” she said.

De Lille denied that the price was inflated, instead she blamed the exorbitant cost on the remoteness of the area and the tight deadline to complete the project because of the pandemic.

De Lille said the issuing of the tender was not a calculated plan to subvert procurement processes using the pandemic as an excuse but was deemed necessary because the existing border fence was in a bad state.

This was also done to comply with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a national state of disaster and a call for the department of home affairs to close the country’s 53 land, air and sea entry points.

She said the objective was “to act swiftly for the Covid-19 solution and have a first line barrier, while planning further with the department of defence for future needs”.

“This intervention was to ensure that no persons cross into or out of the country as part of the efforts to contain the spread of the virus,” said De Lille.

As such, replacing and repairing the existing fence was a priority but because of “criminal activities” they had requested additional support from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

“As there had already been theft of some of the contractor’s materials, on April 4, I wrote to the minister of defence to request the deployment of SANDF members to ensure effective border security. The department of defence deployed a number of SANDF members who are conducting patrols with helicopters, on foot, motorcycles and 4x4 vehicles,” said De Lille.

Kirstein agreed with her saying “the protection and patrolling of all borders of South Africa is part of the SANDF’s daily operations and is continuing despite the extra personnel commitments to support government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

De Lille said there had been no arrests for the vandalism but vowed that her department was acting in the best interests of the country’s citizens.


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