National defence force divorcing Public Works and Infrastructure

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South Africa’s military facilities are the grounds for divorce proceedings currently underway between the Department of Defence (DoD) and Minister Patricia de Lille’s Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI).

This has seen, initially, Minister Thandi Modise’s department take over payment of what was known as the municipal services portfolio from the DPWI, which once billed itself as “government’s landlord”. Other functions such as maintenance, refurbishment and repairs of mainly buildings housing SA National Defence Force (SANDF) components including barracks, hospitals and sickbays as well as hangars for aircraft and storage of vehicles and military materiel, will be “insourced” back to the DoD, the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) heard this week.

A presentation by Major General David Nyangasya, Defence Works Formation (DWF) General Officer Commanding (GOC), gave the JSCD insight into a medium term plan to “devolve certain DoD infrastructure delivery functions” from the DWPI.

One of these is settling municipal accounts for areas such as Thaba Tshwane, administered by the Tshwane Metro and managed by DWF. This, Nyangasya’s presentation has it, has seen arrears of R350 million paid to local authorities as well as introducing “efficiencies and better control” to achieve a further reduction. On the negative side, the committee heard DWPI is “reneging” on an agreement to refund these monies to the DoD.

“The DoD is inundated with outstanding payments for periods since 2019 to date due to readjustments by service providers and arrears charged to the DoD due to short payments by DPWI,”  according to Nyangasya’s presentation.

Other functions it is envisaged will exit the DPWI and become DoD, presumably DWF responsibilities, are emergency repairs, refurbishment and capital works.

Other points made by the two-star range from engaging DPWI on “devolution” of the DoD portfolio, establishing a database of “credible and reputable” service providers and suppliers as well as “ceding all contracts from DPWI” and negotiating new ones.

The first cracks in the relationship between what was then the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the military appeared during former SA National Defence Force (SANDF) chief Solly Shoke’s term as SA Army Chief. Unhappiness with DPW work saw firstly the re-establishment of a Works Regiment as part of the landward force. This subsequently morphed into a formation with units in all nine provinces. In addition to keeping “own” facilities shipshape, the Works Formation assists in other areas where its specific construction and allied skills are put to good use. The most recent example is Operation Chariot, a standing commitment to provide disaster support and humanitarian assistance, evidenced in KwaZulu-Natal post the April floods.

Nyangasya’s presentation does not give timeframes, apart from the DoD taking over payment for municipal services in 2020, for the move that will cut the ties between the military and DPWI. The presentation states the aim is to finalise the DoD facility master plan to ensure lease replacements happen over the next five to eight years.