Beitbridge fence contractors fined millions

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That Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille’s well-intentioned plan to beef up the border fence in the immediate vicinity of the Beitbridge port of entry backfired phenomenally is common cause. She can, however, take some solace in a Special Tribunal order that will see at least a portion of the R40.4 million contract repaid.

A Special Investigating Unit (SIU) statement has it Caledon River Properties and Profteam are “stripped” of any profit earned from the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) contract to replace the existing fence 20 km each side of the port of entry.

“The contractors were jointly paid R21.8 million of the R40.4 million in advance by DPWI for construction of the razor mesh fence. Following an intensive investigation by the SIU, which uncovered a number of irregularities including the pre-payment, the DPWI was interdicted, prohibited and restrained by the Special Tribunal from further payment pending conclusion of a civil claim instituted by the SIU. The R40.4 million contract was reviewed and set aside by agreement between the parties.

“This week (Tuesday, 8 March), the Special Tribunal ordered within 30 days Caledon River Properties and Profteam furnish it with audited financial statements and ‘debatement’ of account reflecting their respective incomes and expenditures on the contracts, supported by an expert report,” the statement, attributed to Kaizer Kganyago, said.

The original whistleblower on what in some quarters is known as the “the washing line” fence, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow public works and infrastructure minister Samantha Graham-Maré, welcome the order to repay over R21 million.

Calling it “a move in the right direction,” she questioned why no one has yet been found accountable or faced sanction.

“It cannot be that of eleven people identified as being part of this R40 million debacle, not a single disciplinary hearing has been finalised.

“Minister De Lille cannot sit back and hope this embarrassing debacle goes away. A SIU report found her interference in appointment of contractors inappropriate. Now that contractors have been made to pay back the money, it raises fresh questions about her conduct as a Minister. She must acknowledge her indiscretion and resign,” Graham-Maré said.

“DPWI officials are sitting at home earning massive salaries without working while others avoid disciplinary action using sick notes and legal challenges,” she said adding: “One trusts DPWI will finalise the disciplinary processes that have dragged on for almost two years and those found guilty for construction of the most ineffective border fence in history are appropriately punished”.

Construction of the fence was part of emergency COVID-19 procurement during 2020 but soon after it was erected it fell apart – prompting a SIU investigation.

In her ruling, Special Tribunal Judge Lebogang Modiba said the state and public were the “biggest losers” and suggested state officials also be held accountable for their actions.

“They have been deprived of the variety of public, social and economic benefits that flow from a solid border track at the Beitbridge border and are saddled with a deficient border fence.

“Further corrective measures lie in holding the officials who designed, approved and implemented the Beitbridge border fence oroject and its related procurement process and those who failed to take appropriate steps to enhance the integrity of the fence,” Modiba said.

According to her the order presents fair relief to all parties involved.

“In the present circumstances, this relief vindicates the values of fairness, equity, transparency, competitiveness and cost effectiveness disturbed when the (companies) were awarded the contracts unlawfully.

“It also entrenches the rule of law by ensuring while the (companies) are not left worse off as a result of the invalidation of the contracts, they also do not benefit from unlawful contracts,” she said.