'A national embarrassment' - Scopa chair tells De Lille, officials over Beitbridge border fiasco

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Chaos as Zimbabweans queue at the Beitbridge border post in 2020.
Chaos as Zimbabweans queue at the Beitbridge border post in 2020.
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  • The Standing Committee on Public Accounts has called on the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure to speedily conclude an investigation into the Beitbridge border fence scandal.
  • Several MPs have accused the department of dragging its feet and not dealing with the fiasco decisively.
  • The DPWI acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel committed to resolve the outstanding issues speedily.

Move with speed. Shape up or shape out. You're set on a direct collision course with this committee.

This is the stern warning Parliament's finance watchdog committee chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa gave officials of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPW) during a virtual briefing on the investigation into the Beitbridge border fiasco.

The biggest bone of contention was the slow pace of progress in taking action against officials involved in the botched R40 million border project and the laissez-faire approach to the matter.

READ | Some public works officials might get off with a final warning over Beitbridge border fiasco

On Tuesday, members of the legislature's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) appeared frustrated as the department's acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel and DPW Minister Patricia de Lille responded to their questions.

Hlengwa, who hammered on the slow pace of progress, described the project as a national embarrassment.

"A blunder of epic proportions. I would want to shape up very quickly, clean up the mess and restore a semblance of integrity and public dignity. Somehow, we have [to] sit here and be subjected to artificial longwinded processes. This is not the note we wanted to start the year on. Let us not pretend that we are ignorant to the corruption that took place at Beitbridge where things went fundamentally wrong," he said.

Hlengwa said:

"Acting DG and your team come the next meeting or report and we are not satisfied, I can assure you. will make specific recommendations about yourselves. This is the final warning. Shape up, or shape out. These issues must be dealt with speed, with urgency and brought to a conclusion. We need to move on to the next pressing issues that the department is faced with. You have a myriad of issues that you should be dealing with."

In responding to questions, De Lille said: "In the week I had told the officials that I am not a grammar teacher. I cannot be editing their submissions. I asked them to put in dates [in their presentations]. I asked them again last night. Now today we are hearing of somewhere in August. But somewhere there must be a date."

Fazel told the committee that officials would commit to resolve the outstanding issues speedily.

Future

He also said future border fence initiatives would be led by the Department of Defence.

Asked about the official involved in the border project, Fazel said all representations [from charged officials] have been received except for one employee who was still requesting further documentation.

Mkhuleko Hlengwa
Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

"The representations were considered by the State Attorney and Counsel who subsequently made recommendations for approval of progressive discipline against some employees and full discipline against other employees depending on the severity of the misconduct," he said.

READ HERE | Suspended public works DG wins first round against De Lille

Disciplinary charges have been recommended against 13 senior officials of the department because of a range of alleged acts of misconduct perpetrated mainly during the procurement process.

Director-general, Sam Vukela, and an advisor have been suspended.

Vukela was suspended after a report by PwC implicated him in allegations of fraudulent contract management and irregular payments in the planning of the state funerals of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Dr Zola Skweyiya and ambassador Billy Modise.

According to Fazel, the State Attorney and Counsel have been instructed to finalise the final charges for service to all the officials tentatively this week. 

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