Supreme Court of Appeal rules no profits for Beitbridge “washing line” fence contractors

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Attempts to hold onto profits from an unfit for purpose stretch of border fence, erected as part of the then national anti-COVID-19 effort in 2020, have come to nought with dismissal of an application for special leave to appeal.

The 46 km of fence adjacent to the Beitbridge port of entry was approved by then Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille, now Tourism Minister in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, to supposedly prevent Zimbabwean illegal immigrants bringing the virus into South Africa.

At the time of the contract being awarded to Caledon River Properties and Profteam CC it was said to be worth R40.4 million with R21.8 million paid in advance for erection of the razor wire fence.

Advocate Andy Mothibi’s Special Investigating Unit (SIU) was called in during the first quarter of 2022 to investigate. Irregularities, including pre-payment, were uncovered and the Department of Public Works and infrastructure (DPWI) was interdicted, prohibited and restrained from further payment pending a civil claim.

The contractors subsequently applied to court to retain profit from the fence erection contract, which was dismissed.

The final throw of the dice, as it were, the special leave to appeal court application, was, according to SANews, dismissed last week by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). The application, as per the government news agency, was aimed at overturning a High Court decision to strip the contractors of profits earned from construction of the fence.

The SIU welcomed the SCA order which “enforces implementation of the SIU investigation outcomes and consequence management to recover financial losses suffered by the State due to negligence or corruption” SANews reported.

The fence, easily breached by illegal immigrants soon after erection, also “fell apart” in places, prompting it to be called “a washing line” with a Presidential proclamation authorising Mothibi’s men and women “to investigate the affairs of all state institutions in respect of procurement or contracting for goods, works and services during or in respect of the National State of Disaster, by or on behalf of State institutions”.

In March two years ago the Special Tribunal, established in terms of the SIU and Special Tribunal Act, set aside the fence contracts and ordered the contractors “divested of profits earned from the multi-million Rand contracts”. The Special Tribunal order was challenged first by a full bench of the High Court where it was dismissed and then by the SCA with the same outcome.