by Melinda Hattingh MPL – DA NC Spokesperson on Roads and Public Works
Date: 29 June 2017
Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature today by the Democratic Alliance’s Provincial Spokesperson on Roads and Public Works, Melinda Hattingh MPL, during the debate on the budget of the Northern Cape Department of Roads and Public Works.
Members of this House
We find ourselves in trying times.
Money is scarce, our country’s credit rating has been downgraded to junk and jobs are in short supply. And what is left of South Africa’s financial future has been left at the mercy of the ANC’s integrity, or lack thereof.
Hon. Speaker, for the sake of our people, it is critical that all government departments pursue alternate routes to grow the economy, generate jobs and create opportunities for those who are without.
In this regard, the Department of Roads and Public Works has a key role to play. And I am not just referring to EPWP which, when implemented impartially, and when not abused, can provide job opportunities to those in need.
Hon. Speaker, the issue I am getting at relates to the management of infrastructure and immovable assets, which if not executed properly, becomes costly and inhibits economic growth.
Corruption and poor management of the mental hospital has cost this government more money than it cares to admit.
In 2015, Hon. Sokatsha told the health portfolio committee that the costs of the new mental hospital totaled R2 billion.
This is in comparison to the R35 million that it cost the Western Cape government to open a modern and fully functional psychiatric unit at Paarl Hospital in the Western Cape last year.
Hon. Speaker, by now this department could have constructed five such units, each valued at R35 million, in each of the Northern Cape’s districts and still had R1,825 billion to spare.
Imagine where we would be as a province if this amount had been added to the fiscus.
It could have not only covered the overdue rates and taxes bill of the new mental hospital, but it could have also cleared the entire rates and taxes backlog of the Roads and Public Works Department, which currently stands at R400 million.
This is almost double the amount of R243 million that the department reportedly owed for rates and taxes in March 2016. It also translates into a quarter of the entire budget allocation of the department.
Hon. Speaker, we cannot allow this department to neglect its financial obligations. This limits the ability of municipalities to deliver services to some of the poorest communities in the country.
It also disempowers municipalities from stimulating local economic growth.
When the DA took over the mayorship of Cape Town, and discovered the massive debt owed for municipal services by government departments, we ensured that the problem was solved and in turn those funds were used to turn Cape Town into the award-winning metro we see today.
Come on Roads and Public Works, what is it going to take for you to pay more than just the R57 million, that has been allocated for rates and taxes, of your total outstanding backlog of R400 million owed to local governments?
Would it perhaps spur you on if they cut off your lights and turned off your water at your department’s offices?
Hon. Speaker, if a lack of money is the issue, then this department urgently needs to relook at its immovable property portfolio in order to free up funds.
A reply to a parliamentary question by the National Minister of Public Works last year, revealed that there are as many as 63 government properties in the Northern Cape that are illegally occupied.
There are also a number of unused state buildings in the Northern Cape that are costing this department hundreds of thousands of rands for both municipal services and rates and taxes.
Hon. Speaker, these buildings are sitting empty while people are desperate for public buildings and offices.
A case in point is the vacant school building in Vosburg.
The hostel is just a shell of what it once was despite, for example, its potential to serve as a home for the elderly. The school meanwhile has already been robbed of its copper wire and is now in the process of having its roof stripped piece by piece.
Yet this department fails to react. It also fails to respond to requests by the local agricultural union to purchase the building.
In the meantime, provincial government departments continue to add onto the already overburdened property portfolio of the province by procuring additional buildings and entering into new leases.
Hon. Speaker, this department commits in its APP to dispose of certain ageing and unused immovable assets to generate income which it indicates will be used for the further management of immovable assets.
If it is to remain as a going concern then it needs to make good on its word and sell off, or at least “lease out”, dead capital such as unused buildings.
It must also take ownership of its remaining property portfolio and ensure that, where possible, unused state buildings are upgraded and maintained and ultimately utilized as office space by departments. This will save departments from purchasing unnecessary properties and entering into inflated lease agreements that drain the government of its potential to stimulate economic growth.
Hon. Speaker, at this point in time, every cent that can be spared must go towards reducing government debt and ensuring efficient and cost-effective services. These are small but invaluable steps towards refueling our downtrodden economy.
Melinda Hattingh MPL
DA NC Spokesperson on Roads and Public Works
082 494 6648
Shelley De Witt
082 847 1387