‘Why should you keep your job?’: Scopa grills public works on Beitbridge fence saga

Three wire fences, including the new R37m one, are erected along the border to stop Zimbabweans illegally entering SA. File photo.
Three wire fences, including the new R37m one, are erected along the border to stop Zimbabweans illegally entering SA. File photo.
Image: Alex Patrick

Department of public works acting director-general (DG) Imtiaz Fazel has been given until February to punish senior officials implicated in the R37m procurement of the controversial Beitbridge border fence.

Should he fail to do so, he should explain why he should keep his job, chairperson of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) Mkhuleko Hlengwa said on Tuesday.     

The sentiments come months after the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found a number of department officials had been involved in financial mismanagement and misrepresentations in the project.

For more than a year, MPs have lambasted the slow pace of consequence management.

Earlier on Tuesday, they sought a final report on action taken against the officials — but to no avail.

“That we are not making headway is increasingly frustrating and is creating a perception that you are stalling deliberately on consequence management,” said Hlengwa.

“Acting DG, this falls squarely on your shoulders. Make sure this consequence management is done. Do everything legally possible and necessary for you to bring this Beitbridge embarrassment to a consequence management conclusion.   

“In the event you come back in February and have not completed this matter, you will have to tell us why you have to continue with your job.”

Public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille led her department’s appearance before Scopa to account for the 40km-long fence built along the border of SA and Zimbabwe.   

She attributed the slow pace of action against implicated individuals to them playing the system. 

“It has become very clear that some senior managers in the department have perfected the art of avoiding disciplinary hearings. They play us with the law, they interdict the report and everything has to stop. When hearings are scheduled, they are sick.  

If we do not assert the strength of the parliamentary oversight as we should, these things become a runaway train.
Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa

“For the past year-and-a-half we have been trying but people have been playing the system,” De Lille said.

The controversial 1.8m-high fence consists of six rolls of coiled razor wire and a razor wire grid erected over three weeks by Magwa Construction.

The SIU investigation found procurement irregularities and fraud committed by departmental officials and service providers among many irregularities. It also found poor design and construction “compromised the effectiveness of the fence as a deterrent for crossing the SA border with Zimbabwe”.   

Fazel assured the committee the department would do its best to ensure implicated individuals were brought to book.

“We will fight tooth and nail in court to reinstate the disciplinary hearings.” 

After “embarrassment” over the fence, the committee made recommendations including that implicated companies be barred from doing business with the government in future. In its presentation, the department confirmed this had been done. 

“It can be reported that both companies were placed under restriction by National Treasury in September 2021 for a period of 10 years. They have appealed and the department is addressing this appeal through our legal services.”

The department, through the SIU, is also trying to recoup all money paid to the companies. 

“The department has placed a moratorium on payments to the service providers. The pending legal recovery action before the SIU tribunal will determine the amounts to be recovered by the department. The department, through the SIU, is claiming the full amounts paid to these service providers. The department is awaiting the court outcome before concluding this matter.”

Hlengwa justified the ultimatum given to Fazel by saying: “If we do not assert the strength of the parliamentary oversight as we should, these things become a runaway train.

“There has to be a demonstration on the part of the department that you yourselves do not associate with what happened at Beitbridge. Distance yourself through consequence management that is necessary to set an example that should corruption take place, it will be punished.

“If you don’t and you allow the disciplinary process to be open-ended, you open the door for people to say, ‘even if I do wrong, there will be no consequences’. It is a precedent you do not want to set.”

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