Public Works to up its game: minister

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Contractors who do shoddy work will be blacklisted at the National Treasury, Minister of Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde said after finding incomplete work during an inspection of the Wonderboom Military Base North of Pretoria. She added this will ensure that they do not get any tenders or work from government.

The visit at the base was 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 reports.

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. The kitchen at the unit’s Wonderboom base no longer had enough stoves to feed the 600 soldiers based there, The Times newspaper added. The paper quoted a Colonel Eugene Motati* as saying the chefs were starting work at 3am so they could use the stoves that were working to ensure the soldiers were properly fed. The replacement of the equipment would cost R850 000.

The Times continued that another officer warned that the poor state of security lighting and fencing put the safety of important signal equipment and installations, including that used to communicate with troops on peacekeeping missions at risk. “We have a serious problem in getting authority for projects that cost R30 000,” said Motati added. He also said this put sensitive computer equipment at risk, because the unit could not obtain authority to repair air conditioning that would keep it operating at the correct temperature.

The minister was further told of concerns that the sewage works which serviced the Wonderboom base were becoming a health risk to neighbouring communities because they had not been upgraded.

Wonderboom is home to the SA Cryptology Security Agency and the Army’s Signals Formation that includes the School of Signals, 1 Signal Regiment, charged with providing deployed brigades with tactical and deployable telecommunications; 2 Signal Regiment, tasked with providing the Army with static telecommunications; 5 Signal Regiment, home of the Army’s electronic warfare capability; 3 Electronic Workshop; 4 Signal Support Unit; and a number of Reserve Force units, including 6, 15, 23, 44, 54, 71 and 84 Signal regiments, 7 Signal Group, 31 Electronic Workshop and 11 Field Post Unit.

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. Motati added that at two of the Signal Corps’ bases requests for the DPW to repair roads have been awaiting response since 2002.

South African Army Brigadier General Eddie Drost last month 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”. Motati yesterday said he had questions about some of the contractors approved by the department. In some instances they would “disappear” before the project was completed. “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.

She said that with four months left in the financial year, her department would do all it could to ensure the base could access as much of its budget as soon as possible. Mahlangu-Nkabinde Monday visited Doornkop Military Base in southern Johannesburg and was scheduled to tour an air force base after leaving Wonderboom.

* The SA Army Signal Formation has advised defenceWeb that Colonel Motati is unknown to them. SO2 Corporate Communication Major Lizette Lombard say the minister was briefed and conducted around the base by Acting General Officer Commanding Colonel MP Shashape.



Pic: Ablutions at Doornkop Miliary Base, September 2009