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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

R170m Zuma home revamp

iol pic nt zuma's hosue pretoria
Residential area of the South African President Jacob Zuma, Bryntirion Estate, Pretoria
The total disarray of the Department of Public Works has again been clearly highlighted through contradictory statements over whether President Jacob Zuma’s official residences and offices in Joburg and Cape Town were being refurbished or not.
“If the one hand does not know what the other hand is doing that is when corruption can flourish,” Athol Trollip, of the DA, said yesterday.
Confirmation by the Ministry in a Parliamentary response to Trollip that nearly R170 million was to be spent on the refurbishment of Zuma’s Pretoria residence Mahlamba Ndlopfu was later retracted and vehemently denied by Public Works Minister Gwen Mhlangu-Nkabinde and acting Director-General Mandla Mabuza.
The debacle comes less than a month since Auditor-General Terence Nombembe gave the department a disclaimer saying he had not only found irregular expenditure amounting to R16.5m, but that there was no evidence of R1.3 billion in capital transactions. Immovable assets worth R3.4bn could also not be traced.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has, in two reports on the police leasing scandal, recommended that steps be taken against Mahlangu-Nkabinde and national police commissioner Bheki Cele for their roles in the R500m and R1.1bn lease agreements with businessman Roux Shabangu. Madonsela had found that the Pretoria and Durban leases were concluded in an unlawful and improper way.
Mahlangu-Nkabinde admitted last month in a public address that a Special Investigating Unit’s probe had found the department had lost R3bn through 41 dodgy tenders. The entire department was under investigation, it was stated.
Sapa had quoted Mahlangu-Nkabinde as admitting in an address to the Engineering Council of South Africa recently that her department had been run like a “cash cow” with contracts awarded to people who had no clue as to what they were required to do.
Trollip said confusion over the responses and whether the build programme was going ahead despite its cancellation earlier in the year clearly highlighted the problems in the department handling the management and maintenance of all government buildings.
“The problem lies with the department not knowing what is being said.”
Trollip had asked for comprehensive refurbishment figures from the department weeks after Mahlangu-Nkabinde had announced the cancellation of the projects.
After their release earlier in the week, and the subsequent media reports, the minister denied the veracity of the response, saying the information released to Parliament was incorrect.
Trollip said: “If no one knows what is going on in the department, then it makes it more vulnerable to corruption. It is well known that departments of public works are the departments around the world that are most prone to corruption.”
He pointed out that Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Mabuza had emphasised the retention of the status quo - that the projects were cancelled in March - but that government spokesman Jimmy Manyi had said the opposite shortly thereafter.
Manyi had in his reaction denied that the cost of the renovations to Zuma’s Pretoria residence was extravagant or compromised social delivery, saying the work to be done “on a range of official properties will be done in the same way that the government attends to other programmes - like health and education”.
The DA was adamant the confusion could not be ignored. Trollip made it clear that it was not the DA’s questions that were embarrassing to the government, but that it was its answers that had embarrassed the executive.
“That is why people like Roux Shabangu can do what he is doing,” Trollip charged.
Trollip had asked this week, in reaction to the responses received and later retracted, for a full explanation from Mahlangu-Nkabinde why such expenditure was deemed an appropriate use of state funds.
He said such exorbitant expenditure indicated just how disconnected Zuma was from the people. “At a time when millions of South Africans face rising unemployment, a lack of basic services and poor quality housing, the president has seen fit to reward himself with a series of renovations to his lavish residences. The hundreds of millions of rands this has cost the state could have built over 7 000 RDP houses.”
In her retraction of the response on Thursday Mahlangu-Nkabinde was at pains to reiterate the contracts were cancelled in March and had not been reinstated.
“No work has been undertaken, no taxpayers’ money has been spent,” she said.
Her officials, she said, had assured her of this even though it was true that the presidential residence was due for refurbishment.
“They assure me of this and I can assure South Africa that any expenditure on the refurbishment will be in line with normal building costs.”
She said it remained unclear how the cancelled cost proposal was sent to the DA, and that she had instructed the department to investigate.
Mabuza said yesterday he regarded the matter as closed.
“There is no such thing as a R170m refurbishment. It is pure nonsense. According to us the matter is closed,” Mabuza said in response to the Sunday Tribune’s questions.
He emphasised that any work required at Mahlamba Ndlopfu would be done “internally by the department”.
Mabuza had instructed the department’s “projects and professional services unit to commence with the work”.
“Accordingly, the department will, once the investigation on the maintenance state of these assets is concluded, decide on execution of maintenance internally,” he said.
What Mabuza did confirm was that “some official” had submitted “false information” to Parliament on the costs involved, and that he had ordered an investigation “to determine the conduct of this official”.
A cost breakdown:
- Renovating Genadendal: R13.5m
- Renovating Tuynhuys: R24.4m
- Furnishing Tuynhuys: R778 000
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