Beitbridge fence fiasco: Govt splashed out R17m more than what it was meant to pay

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Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille (Jan Gerber/ News24)
Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille (Jan Gerber/ News24)
  • An investigation has uncovered a cesspool of irregularities in the Beitbridge border fence project, which saw government pay for massively inflated services.
  • It spent about R40 million on the project, when in fact it was supposed to pay far less.
  • Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille and her department officials gave MPs an update on the investigation into these irregularities.

An investigation into the Beitbridge border fence project has found that the government paid R17 million more than the market-related cost for a controversial fencing project that has been mired in controversy. 

This was revealed during a virtual meeting of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure on Tuesday.

The investigation led by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure’s anti-corruption unit, as well as the Special Investigating Unit, uncovered a cesspool of irregularities and wrongdoing in relation to the border fence project.

The investigation's report has so far recommended disciplinary charges against 14 senior officials in the department. Last month, De Lille announced the precautionary suspension of the DPWI’s director-general Sam Vukela.

Acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel said several irregularities has since been uncovered.

"A further assessment using market-related prices for materials actually used on site and revised fees for engineering services provides for a total project cost of R23 388 023.97. This indicates that project cost was exceeded by an amount of R17 047 891.01. It is therefore apparent that a proper review of the bill of quantities was not conducted by the department, and consequently resulted in the contract price being inflated. This also reflects the real risk to the DPWI of having failed to test the market. The 2020 market comparison also indicates that the 2016 rates were inflated at the time," he said.

READ | Report calls for charges against 14 public works officials over R1m/km Beitbridge fence

On top of the inflated prices in relation to market-related prices, the investigation found although the contracted amount was "ostensibly" calculated at 2016 prices based on an earlier contract, the evaluation indicated that some of the items quoted were in fact not based on these 2016 prices.

Fazel continued: 

This includes site establishment, costs exceeding R1 million, which should not have been charged, and excessive units rates for specific items. Using the 2016 contract rates - at which this project was contracted - the assessment found that the overall total project cost should have amounted to R26.1 million, and was therefore overpriced by R14.3 million.

There was a projected spend of R40.4 million for the border fence, which amounted to more than R1 million per kilometre of fence.

EFF MP Annacleta Siwisa said it was becoming clear that government’s tender system was not working.

"We need to build our own capacity and establish a state construction company. The looting is going to continue. I must also say that you are responsible for this. You are the custodian of all government buildings. It all comes down to you, minister. If you don’t remove these companies, we are going to sit with the same problem again," Siwisa said.

READ ALSO | Scopa wants public works to stop paying for 'absolute mess' of a fence at Beitbridge border

DA MP Madeleine Hicklin said she had never seen a tender awarded and payments made so quickly.

"This must be the greatest speed that this project came at. R21.8 million had been paid (in advance). How is it humanly possible that 14 senior officials were found to be wanting. We must start to look at this department. Minister, the buck stops with you. Stop looking for scapegoats," she said.

De Lille said any accusation against her or the department should be put to her.

"I will be the first one under the authority of Parliament to be held accountable. I will never run away from accountability. I will subject myself to any due process. If you accuse of corruption, come with the proof and I will open my bank accounts. I have not been involved in any corruption with the border project," De Lille said.

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