Members of Parliament have been dismayed to learn that the cost of South Africa’s first “new generation” prison, set to officially open next week, has climbed by a third and will now cost about R830 million.
“The estimated final cost is R830 million”, the Department of Public Works’ chief operations officer, Nchaupe Malebye, told the portfolio committee on correctional services in reference to a 3000-bed, medium-security facility located outside Kimberley, in the Northern Cape.
The South African Press Association reports the cost of completing the long-planned new prison – designed to serve as a model for other new correctional facilities in South Africa – has risen steadily over the past two years. In 2008, correctional services officials were referring to it as the “R662 million Kimberley Correctional Centre”, while in March last year the estimated cost was R821 million.
Speaking after the briefing, Malebye said the latest figure “remains an estimate at this point in time – it might be less, it might be more”, SAPA says. Earlier, he told the committee the higher price for the prison was due to a variety of factors, including inflated material, fuel and labour costs.
But committee chairman Vincent Smith noted the latest cost estimate was a “260 % escalation” over the original budgeted cost. “No amount of inflation… can justify this”, he said. Malebye said the “official” opening of the facility, on Monday next week, marked the completion of testing the prison’s systems. The prison has housed male inmates since November.
Meanwhile, correctional services chief deputy commissioner Teboho Motseki told MPs on Tuesday that the maintenance backlog at prisons was reaching crisis point.
The budget allocated to public works department – responsible for planned maintenance in South Africa’s overcrowded prisons – was not enough, he told MPs. An area of particular concern was prison kitchens, which each day produced meals for an estimated 165 000 offenders.
“If the department of public works does not increase its budget, very soon we are going to be dealing with a crisis,” Motseki said. Another area of concern was the emergency generators at prisons, used to run essential services in the event of a power outage. These too needed maintaining.
According to a document tabled at the briefing, the public works budget for correctional services maintenance was R574 million for the 2009/10 financial year. Correctional services manage over 200 centres, including prisons, offices and training facilities, around the country.
Asked after the briefing to put a figure on the size of the maintenance backlog, Motseki declined to do so. “I can’t give you that figure… but it’s a big problem,” he said. Smith questioned why the department had not by now struck a service level agreement (SLA) with public works, four years after the departments signed a memorandum of understanding on the matter. “I don’t understand – four years down the line and you still don’t have an SLA, but you’re dealing with a multi-million-rand budget,” he said.
According to a document tabled at the meeting by public works, the SLA is currently in draft form, waiting for certain service delivery standards to be “refined”, SAPA reported. The prison system has in recent years fallen into administrative chaos. Prisons commissioner Xoliswa Sibeko remains on paid special leave on the instructions of Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula despite being cleared on charges of misconduct. She was suspended in the middle of last year for renting a R34 000-a-month private home at taxpayer’s expense, among other charges. But a disciplinary hearing cleared her in December. The Sunday Independent last month reported that then-prisons minister Ngconde Balfour had insisted she and Gauteng prisons commissioner Tozama Mqobi-Balfour (the Ministerial wife) find alternative accommodation to that provided by the state.
In November the portfolio committee expressed dismay at the scale of tender corruption in the prisons department that included allegations that the Bosasa group had paid R2.1 million in bribes to an official to secure business worth R1 billion. Smith said the findings of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Special Investigating Unit headed by former African National Congress MP Advocate Willie Hofmeyr were “horrific”.
Democratic Alliance shadow prisons minister James Selfe said the allegations were “the most shocking I have heard in 15 years in Parliament”. Hofmeyr said that the investigation could not establish a legal source for those benefits but was satisfied the payments came from the company, Business Day newspaper reports this morning.
The SIU chief said the reports were completed in August and sent to state prosecutors for a decision. The Business Day notes that although Hofmeyr named no one in his briefing to the Portfolio Committee yesterday, his report implied minister Balfour “could be in deep trouble”. Balfour is currently High Commissioner to Botswana.