Tension between DPWI and DoD over military infrastructure maintenance

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The Department of Defence’s (DoD’s) dissatisfaction with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) over military facilities maintenance has seen the DoD prohibit DPWI from carrying out some maintenance projects, as the military prefers to use in-house capabilities.

This is one of the complaints by Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille in reply to a Parliamentary question asked by Sanele Zondo. The Inkatha Freedom Party KwaZulu-Natal provincial public representative wanted to know what plans the DPWI has in place to ensure SA National Defence Force (SANDF) infrastructure is refurbished and maintained.

De Lille said her department undertakes “a blend of preventative and corrective maintenance” for “immovable infrastructure” used by the Department of Defence.

On “corrective maintenance” de Lille indicated two asset renewal programmes – repair and refurbishment (R&R) and Capital – ensure the upkeep of DoD facilities. Her reply further indicates “DPWI always has a myriad of repair and upgrade projects being carried out on the DoD portfolio” with the current challenge a decentralised budget residing with the client (Minister Thandi Modise’s DoD).

“This model has bottlenecks that lead to delays in timeously carrying out refurbishment and capital projects due to unavailability or delay in funding confirmation.”

Tacit admission the relationship between her DPWI and Modise’s DoD is not all plain sailing comes where the reply states “in recent times the DoD prohibited DPWI from carrying out R&R projects in their facilities”.

She warns the DoD portfolio is “relatively old” and “prohibition of refurbishment” will accelerate deterioration of facilities, further burdening the normal preventative and corrective maintenance budget.

“This could put the accounting officer (Secretary for Defence Gladys Kudjoe) in a precarious position if something were to go wrong due to lack of refurbishment,” a sentence reads.

Probably the most glaring failure in both the repair and refurbishment category is the longstanding repair and maintenance project (RAMP) at the SA Military Health Service flagship 1 Military Hospital. Intervention by the DoD in the form of facilitation by the Development Bank of SA (DBSA) saw some refurbishment work completed with much else languishing while investigations, including at least one by the SA Police Service (SAPS) Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), better known as the Hawks, are underway.

On 1 Military Hospital, De Lille’s reply has it a total facility management approach (TFM) is up and operational with TFM on the way for 2 Military Hospital in Cape Town’s Wynberg. TFM is a maintenance approach where facility services are packaged by combining technical maintenance and “soft services”, which are not elaborated on.

Former SANDF Chief Solly Shoke first raised dissatisfaction with the performance of the then Department of Public Works (DPW) when he was SA Army Chief. This saw the establishment of a Works Regiment in the landward force which has now reached a fully-fledged formation with units in all nine provinces.

De Lille assured her questioner her department will continue corrective – day-to-day – maintenance of DoD facilities nationally using DPWI regional offices. This will seemingly be bolstered by what she says is a “R1 million delegation” assigned to the DoD (presumably for the Works Formation) for corrective maintenance as “day-to-day guidelines”.

Figures supplied with the response have it R342 495 058 was spent on maintenance in the 2020/21 financial year by DPWI with R80 322 16 spent on repair and R5 676 461 on refurbishment with a further R320 936 571 coming from the defence budget for facility refurbishment.