A billion a year for barracks

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Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu says her department will be spending R1 billion a year, for up to 15 years, to improve military facilities.

Giving an oral answer to a question asked by ANC-Gauteng Member of the National Council of Provinces, AG Matila, Sisulu said she was “hoping also that from this year, we can put aside R1 billion which have been given to us to deal with upgrading of our facilities and annually we can put aside R1 billion for the next 15 years.
“If we are all still here in the next 15 years, we would have the kind of the state of the art accommodation in the defence force that I think they deserve, that is what we have budgeted for,” she said in answer to question as to whether her department has taken any steps to upgrade the facilities of the defence force.
“We are engaged in extensive upgrading of our facilities and to just mention a few, we are dealing with two military hospitals where we had to upgrade them. We are dealing with SA Military Battalion base in Mpumalanga etc. In all, I think that we prioritised about 10 projects,” she continued.
“As of this year we have budgeted for an average of R425 million to deal with the upgrading of our facilities. I need to indicate to the member that unfortunately, we are tied in a relationship where we are dependant on the Department of Public Works, to do all the repair work and maintenance for the Department of Defence. We are hoping that we can move towards a situation and the relationship with the Department of Public Works, where they will understand that it is possible for us to upgrade our own facilities. We are working on a Memorandum of Understanding in that regard.”

Minister of Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde in December visited a number of military bases and said contractors who do shoddy work will be blacklisted at the National Treasury.

The visits were prompted by a report handed to the Minister of Defence and Military Veteran Lindiwe Sisulu that painted a bleak picture about the situation at the base, the state BuaNews agency reported at the time.

Mahlangu-Nkabinde was shocked upon hearing the conditions under which the defence force members were working due to the state of decay of buildings, especially barracks and kitchens. “I’m determined to work with my team to get things done,” she said.

Under the current dispensation, the Department of Public Works (DPW) is the owner of al state property, including all military base and buildings. As a consequence, as tenants, the defence force is not allowed to repair, maintain or upgrade its facilities, even though it has the ability to do so. A further complication is that the DPW expects its tenants to budget for such repairs, maintenance and upgrades; which generally they do not, leading to a steady deterioration of facilities.

South African Army Brigadier General Eddie Drost last November briefed the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans that the DPW was “too slow” in responding to tenants’ needs. Buildings had become dilapidated, posing an occupational health and safety risk under national legislation and exposing the military to litigation and the closure of facilities. He also noted that funds allocated to the Repair and Maintenance Programme (RAMP) had stopped.

The DPW in May 2007 briefed the same committee that RAMP targeted facilities that were in serious need of repair. Projects were financed by the DPW, the military and Treasury. At the time work to the value of R4.033 billion had been completed at 91 facilities. This included work at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria; 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg, Cape Town; Air Force Base Waterkloof; 4 South African Infantry Battalion at Middelburg in Mpumalanga; and, ironically at the South African Engineer Corps base at Dunottar near Springs in eastern Gauteng. This base is home to 35 Engineer Support Regiment and 1 Construction Regiment, the Army’s civil engineering capability. The final report of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission noted a backlog of R13 billion.

The DPW said the programme placed an emphasis on placing work with small contractors, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) companies and “emerging entrepreneurs”.
“Defence is not a very happy client of ours,” Mahlangu-Nkabinde noted, promising her department would have a report by tomorrow for the officers on what public works could do.



Pic: A shower at Doornkop military base, pictured in September 2009.