22 January 2013

South Africa: Public Works Sets Record Straight On Ministerial Houses

Pretoria — The Department of Public Works has set the record straight regarding expenditure on the renovation of ministerial houses.

The department said in a statement on Monday that it was mandated to provide and manage the accommodation needs of the state.

"This legislative obligation enjoins the department to plan, budget and execute work calculated to acquire, maintain, operate and eventually dispose of state immoveable assets intended to accommodate the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and certain classes of public servants.

"It is important to note that it is not the responsibility of the individual ministers to decide on the scope of renovation of state properties. This task is solely the responsibility of the Department of Public Works in line with its constitutional mandate," the department said.

Since late 2011, Public Works Minister Thulasi Nxesi has gone on record about the poor financial management controls in the department, which has led to the gross inflation of quotations and prices for the work undertaken by the contractors, the department noted.

This has also resulted in numerous requests for variation orders which tended to distort original prices, leaving the department facing exorbitant invoice claims.

The department said "appropriate actions" would be taken against any companies or individuals where evidence of price fixing is proven.

"In a bid to clean up the anomalies in relation to endemic collusion or corruption in the supply chain management processes as well as systematic operational inefficiencies, the Minister launched the Turnaround Strategy," noted the department.

According to the department, the intervention prioritised professional capacity building in the department to develop more competent professionals to change some of the entrenched malpractices, including inherent poor quality management practices.

The minister has also ordered the establishment of a Technical Team made up of engineers, architects and construction project management to investigate the prices and construction of quality projects.

In line with these corrective measures, external service providers have been brought on board to promote compliance, eliminate corruption and improve efficiencies.

The department confirmed that it has spent R65 million of its allocated budgets under its prestige portfolio, effecting renovations and improvements to a number of state-owned houses in both Cape Town and Pretoria allocated to members of the Executive.

Approximately 27 properties were involved with varying degrees of scopes of work. The designs, technical inputs and financial estimates were developed by professionals, said the department.

"These properties are very old, extensive in size and are of heritage value, having been used by successive colonial and/or apartheid administrations in the modern history of South Africa, which of necessity makes them expensive," the department said.

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