by Melinda Hattingh, MPL – DA Spokesperson of Roads & Public Works
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Date: 26 June 2018
Note to Editors: The following is an extract from a speech presented by Melinda Hattingh MPL at the annual Budget Vote Debate for the Northern Cape Department of Roads & Public Works at the Frances Baard District Municipality chambers in Kimberley today.
When we think of the Northern Cape Department of Roads & Public Works, we think of a department that has taken approximately 13 years, and in the region of R2 billion, to build a single mental hospital.
This is a mental hospital that would have cost only a fraction of the total cost, had it been completed on time.
This is a hospital that would have been classified as a state of the art facility, had it been launched in the anticipated era, but has instead become outdated before it has even opened its doors.
This is a hospital that will forever be remembered as a monument to corruption in the Northern Cape.
This said, Hon. Speaker, I look forward to eventually seeing the detailed report that names and shames those responsible for this colossal mess, as was promised to the portfolio committee by the Hon. MEC Sokatsha.
In fact, I am especially interested in seeing whether any of the guilty parties are still actively involved in this department.
I say this because the DA strongly suspects that the Roads and Public Works Department is infested with criminal elements.
Now that the mental hospital is finally on the verge of completion, and the money for the project has run out, it is no longer of use to white collar crooks posing as government officials.
I therefore suspect they may have found a cash cow elsewhere – perhaps in the Fleet Management Trading Entity?
Hon. Speaker, this entity, which is a trading account of the department, has never accounted fully to the legislature since it was established eight years ago.
This is unacceptable and this simply must change.
We understand that there is currently a Hawks investigation into the issue of petrol card fraud. This is very serious but I suspect that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I say this against the backdrop that we have more questions than answers when it comes to the fleet entity:
1. There are no internal controls and no checks and balances to keep this entity on the straight and narrow.
Senior staff of this department also serve as senior staff of the entity. Whilst we are still awaiting a report detailing all personnel costs, and the so-called R14,5 million worth of “services in kind” payments made to departmental staff also working for the entity, we have reason to believe that there has been some kind of double-dipping in terms of remuneration.
2. The main source of income for the Fleet Management Trading Entity remains the rates charged for the yellow and white fleet. Its “going concern” status is thus determined by its ability to recover its debt from user departments.
Surely this becomes a conflict of interest when the department itself becomes highly indebted to its own trading account, as was the case at the end of March 2016, whereby the department owed the entity R166 million before a substantial amount of bad debt was written off, without a write-off policy in place?
3. Then there is the matter of the consultancy fees, which more than doubled from the previous year to R3,830 million, apparently due to the resignation of the entity’s CFO in November 2017.
4. Also highly questionable is the ludicrous amount of R225,291 million that the entity has allocated towards training. If this was merely a misprint in the Annual Performance Plan, why didn’t the department just say so? I would like to remind the department that the portfolio committee is still expecting a written explanation on this contentious matter?
Hon. Speaker, when you consider all that I have just mentioned, and then take into account that 42% of the yellow fleet is in a “poor to very poor” condition, while 36 of the 76 graders are over 26 years of age, one cannot help but doubt the efficiency of this entity.
Also, when you consider the complaints of user departments regarding the affordability of government vehicles, one also cannot help but wonder whether this entity is actually providing government with value for money.
Hon. Speaker, there can be no doubt that the time has come to review the usefulness of the Fleet Management Trading Entity.
The time has also come to follow in the footsteps of the Health Department, by establishing an anti-corruption task team at the Department of Roads and Public Works.
I would also like to go a step further and challenge the Hon. MEC to make officials, especially those involved with the Fleet Management Trading Entity, to undergo lifestyle audits.
Hon. Speaker, whatever it is that is going on in this department, cannot be allowed to continue. This department is not a law unto itself. Like all other departments, this department has a responsibility to the communities it serves. We must therefore not shy away from holding it accountable for its use of state funds.
On this note, I wish to red flag the Sol Plaatje EPWP cleaning project.
Funding of this cleaning project comes from the equitable share of the department and not from the EPWP grant. It is therefore questionable why this department, which claims to find itself short changed in respect of adequate funds to clear outstanding rates and taxes debt owed to municipalities, chooses to pump more than R30 million a year into this project?
What is also questionable is why Sol Plaatje councillors find themselves in the dark regarding this funding?
Even more disconcerting, is that the department is now attempting to use its sponsorship of the Sol Plaatje cleaning project as a negotiating tool to get a rebate from Sol Plaatje municipality to whom it owes millions of rands in outstanding rates and taxes.
Hon. Speaker, something just doesn’t add up.
Where does this money really go? Why is there such a veil of secrecy around this funding? And since when do government departments wheel and deal with each other under the table?
In closing, I therefore ask Hon. Sokatsha to secure documentary evidence from his department reflecting the respective payments made to Sol Plaatje for the cleaning project. In the meantime, I will also seek similar financial statements from Sol Plaatje, detailing the deposits received and also the expenditure thereof.
This is critical to either allay or confirm our fears that the Sol Plaatje cleaning project is nothing more than a patronage cow, used to secure support ahead of elections.
Hon. Speaker, until this department’s budget is transparent, and its words and actions actually align themselves, the DA dares not support Budget Vote 5.
Melinda Hattingh, MPL
DA Spokesperson of Roads & Public Works
082 494 6648
Shelley De Witt
082 847 1387