Public Works talks big


The Department of Public Works is set to embark on an ambitious programme that will see it invest in repairs and maintenance of government buildings, which will result in huge savings for the state.

The state BuaNews agency reports the programme, announced by Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde Wednesday during her inaugural Budget Vote in Parliament, will be undertaken by the department in three years. “Investment in repair and maintenance, continuous maintenance and construction of new government buildings could generate major savings for the state … This will also include ensuring the relocation of national departments to state owned buildings where it is feasible to do so,” said Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

She noted that the leasing portfolio was costing the state a lot of money, where in the past year alone, her department spent billions in leases and functional accommodation for client departments.
“We acknowledge that our lease portfolio will take a while to reduce but in the interim, the department will continue to find ways to structure its current leases such that the socio-economic goals of government are realised including black, women and youth economic empowerment,” said the minister.

Mahlangu-Nkabinde said the department would invoke the National Infrastructure Maintenance Strategy and the National Contractor Development Programme to target investment in this sector, a move that would also benefit small and emerging contractors. With regards to the rehabilitation of unused as well as underutilised public buildings, the department will in collaboration with the Department of Higher Education, convert these buildings to provide affordable student accommodation where it is possible.

The upgrading and refurbishment of the HG De Witt building in Tshwane will result in accommodation for approximately 180 students, while the upgrading and refurbishment of Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein will result in accommodation for about 700 students. “Through this intervention, the department is looking at alleviating the problem of lack of decent student accommodation while creating job opportunities,” explained the minister.

The department will also rehabilitate selected military bases, while it is also paying attention to the deteriorating state of the infrastructure at harbours, starting in Cape Town. Turning the focus to accommodation needs of the South African Police Service, Mahlangu-Nkabinde said in the year under review, these will be extensive given the need to fast-track the goal of creating “a safe and secure South African society.”

She said infrastructure projects were solid proof of government’s commitment to service delivery.
“Furthermore, and with respect to the SAPS portfolio, I wish to announce that in the current financial year, the department will complete the first ever state-of-the-art Forensic Laboratory for SAPS in Cape Town,” said the minister.

The department will also launch a campaign to encourage South Africans to reclaim lost or missing immovable assets. “We will soon launch the Amnesty Campaign aptly named ‘Operation Bring Back’ in order to encourage South Africans to reclaim lost and/or missing immovable assets. These properties, we believe, were insincerely wrested from the state in the turbulent transitional period following the demise of apartheid and were being unlawfully occupied.
“The significance of the state-owned real estate as a major revenue generator for government cannot be over-emphasised,” said Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

She said once recovered, the properties will either enhance the department’s disposal programme or contribute positively to the Inner City Regeneration programme in revitalising the economy, BuaNews said.

Job creation

Mahlangu-Nkabinde continued her department will do all it can to promote job creation. “For us, infrastructure development and job creation lie at the centre of the mandate and the strategic plan of the department,” she said on Wednesday while presenting her budget vote in Parliament. The minister said her department took a decision earlier to implement all its programmes, including the labour intensive Capital Works Programme to boost employment in South Africa.

The department will continue to use the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to create job opportunities, with Phase 2 of the programme having completed its second year. The programme was also helping municipalities to deal with the backlog of waste management, said Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

The Food for Waste programme is an innovation where communities collect waste and receive compensation in the form of food parcels. Currently, 10 municipalities are participating in the programme, with 19 others to be brought on board this financial year. “As a lead department in the implementation of this programme, Public Works will continue to use this programme in the War against Poverty and unemployment, mindful of the limited resources at our disposal,” said the minister.

The EPWP has been allocated R679 million for incentive grants to municipalities and R267 million for provinces. “I have ordered the department to review the disbursements of the so-called performance based incentive grants to both provincial and local governments, so that we can satisfy ourselves that such measures are cost-effective and not open to abuse,” said Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

The department has decided to redeploy some staff from the EPWP to local government to assist with capacity in the implementation, evaluation and monitoring of the EPWP programmes in order to fast track service delivery. In the promotion of the EPWP and National Youth Service (NYS) programmes, “it is envisaged that the department will be in a better position to create job opportunities through direct employment compared to the private sector contractors,” said the minister.

The department will also undertake an independent assessment of all its supply chain management processes and structure, including the review and restructuring the bid adjudication committees.

About 100 young people have been placed in the artisan training programme at the Pelindaba Technical Training Centre outside Tshwane, where they will be undergoing training in various trades, including welding. Government has undertaken to absorb them into employment after 18 months.
“This is in line with our decision to not only re-open our erstwhile technical workshops but to increase their capacity so that they become the centres of further skills generation, while at the same time, helping us to reduce the costs associated with unnecessary outsourcing of menial jobs, many of which can be performed in-house,” said the minister.