The Committee met to follow up on the report of the Auditor-General on the Performance Audit of the Infrastructure Delivery Process at the Provincial Department of Education with the Limpopo Provincial Departments of Education and Public Works, following the Committee’s oversight visit to the Malekgobo Primary School. At the beginning of the meeting, committee members expressed frustration at the persistent absence of the Minister for Basic Education and the Limpopo MEC for Education. The sentiments of the Committee were recorded by the Minister of Public Works who committed to communicating these to the Executive Authorities.
During the discussion, Members said that there was the absence of procedures and policies in Limpopo, widespread non-compliance and outrageous irregularities. Members wanted to know who were the officials responsible and what disciplinary sanctions had been taken against them. The Committee said that the report of the Auditor-General was quite clear that contraventions of the law were widespread in Limpopo. The report stated that in 83% of the building projects audited, the law had been broken. What was disturbing was that the Department of Public Works intended to hand over only 15 projects to the Special Investigating Unit. A far wider investigation was required as the irregularities were going to be seen in hundreds of other projects. The Department was accused of not taking the matter seriously and people were getting away with corruption and incompetence. There was irregular expenditure on a massive scale, fraud and corruption but yet the Department could not give the name of a single individual who had been sanctioned for incompetence or misconduct. There were “no consequences” and it was simply not good enough.
The Minister of Public Works said that the challenges included institutionalised bureaucracy, the complexity of disciplinary hearings and the very serious extent to which the Department had to prepare for these hearings. In conducting the hearings, the Department had to often rely on the same officials who were facing the disciplinary hearings. He said that the Department had to still be accountable. What was very clear was that getting into an area where systems had collapsed, the changing of deeply rooted wrong cultures was very difficult. The Minister said that it was important for the Committee to look into Section 100 of the Constitution to verify the taking over by the National Department and the possible negotiation of the process with the provinces.
The officials from the Limpopo Provincial Departments of Education and Public Works told the Committee that the matters which were identified after the Departments had been placed under Administration had been referred to the Special Investigating Unit and the Department of Public Service and Administration. Although Committee members said that the officials were hiding behind the intervention team, the Committee said that it was willing to receive the findings and results of the investigations.
The Chairperson said that what the Committee needed to consider was calling in the Special Investigating Unit, the Department of Public Service and Administration and some of the officials from the Departments involved for a closed meeting where the hindrances to progress could be discussed. A sense of outrage with the desire to put a stop to the malpractices was necessary.
Introduction by Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed the delegations from the Limpopo Provincial Departments of Public Works and Education.
After a round of introductions, Mr N Singh (IFP) asked why there were more officials present from the Provincial Department of Public Works than officials from the Education Department which had more responsibility as per the matters to be discussed. He also wanted to know who was going to be answering the questions from the Committee when everybody present was an intervention administrator.
The Minister of Public Works, Mr Thembelani “Thulas” Nxesi said that the administrators for Education and Public Works for Limpopo were both present. The numbers meant nothing as the accounting officers were present. The MEC for Public Works in Limpopo was also present.
Ms M Mangena (ANC) said that the Committee had previously insisted that it required the MEC for Education to attend committee meetings. The Administrator alone could not answer all the relevant questions.
The Administrator of the Limpopo Provincial Department for Education, Mr Mbuyi Dondashe, replied that on his way to the meeting, the MEC called him and said that an apology had been sent to the Committee stating that he had been booked off by a doctor. A letter had also been sent to the Committee extending an apology for the Minister of Basic Education. The apology of the Minister was going to explain why she was absent.
The Chairperson asked why the other Heads of Department were absent.
Mr Dondashe said that he did not know why they were absent.
Mr S Thobejane (ANC) said that the content of the letters of apology could be shared with the Committee so that members could understand why the Minister and the MEC were absent.
The Chairperson said that he had received a letter of apology from the Minister who had requested that the meeting be shifted to next week. The Committee could not reschedule the meeting as its programme was very tight for the semester. The Chairperson said that he was under the impression that the MEC for Education from Limpopo was going to attend the meeting but a letter was sent, received one day before the meeting, indicating that the MEC was not feeling well and could not attend the meeting. The Premier was busy with the State of the Province address and that was why he could not make it.
Mr Thobejane said that he wanted the Committee to call for a condemnation of the behavior of the Minister of Education for receiving the invitation of the Committee on time but replying with an apology only two days before the meeting.
The Minister of Public Works said that he had recorded the sentiments of the Committee but he appealed to the Committee to bear in mind that the Minister had sent an apology and that was better than just staying silent.
The Chairperson said that notwithstanding the apologies, it was not a good sign that both the Minister and the MEC were absent when the Committee had visited Limpopo and even now in Cape Town, they were still absent.
The Chairperson said that the Committee could not call the officials from Limpopo to come to Cape Town just to talk about the Committee’s oversight visit to the Malekgobo Primary School, so the opportunity was going to be used to talk about many other matters. He said that the meeting of the day was going to be a short one as the matters to be followed up on were straightforward ones.
Dr D George (DA) said that looking at the report from the Limpopo Department of Public Works, it was very clear that there was a failure in the public financial systems operating in Limpopo. For financial procedures to work properly, there were three prerequisites. These included that procedures were in place, functional internal audit and an audit committee which provided oversight. According to the report, it is clear that procedures were not followed. The main questions to be asked were: Were the procedures in place? Why were the procedures not followed and who was responsible in ensuring that the procedures were followed?
The Administrator for the Limpopo Department of Public Works, Mr Dondashe replied that the procedures followed were the procedures which were clearly defined in the National Treasury Framework for Supply Chain Management. The report stated that the role played by the project managers in the execution of their agency function with the Department was questionable. As a result a separate file had been prepared which was going to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). The SIU and the DPSA were members of the Intervention Team in Limpopo. They had the expertise, resources and investigative capacity to follow up on the matters raised in the report. 15 projects had been identified and the SIU and the DPSA were going to investigate these projects and the Department would relay the findings to the Committee. To directly answer the questions, Mr Dondashe said that it was true that procedures were not followed, suspicions were raised and the right quarters had been informed of the situation.
Dr George understood that the matters had been sent to the SIU. However, the Administrator made mention of project managers – but it was not only the project managers who were responsible but every official connected with the projects including the political leadership of the province.
Mr Dondashe replied that the matter had been referred to the SIU and the result of that investigation was going to show who was responsible.
The Minister of Public Works said that the Department of Public Works was listing the names of everybody who was responsible at the time. By listing the names, no judgments were being cast on anybody. The investigations and the published names did not mean the officials were guilty but that the investigations had to start with them as they were the responsible parties.
Dr George said that the Committee was made to understand that there was an audit committee in place but it did not carry out its functions properly. What was being done to the individuals who were on this audit committee, did not do their job but were paid?
Mr Dondashe replied that the audit committee in Limpopo was centralised in the Limpopo Provincial Treasury so all the audit committees were run centrally and were broken up into clusters. The members were appointed by the Treasury and the audit committee chairperson accounted to the MEC. The Department was liaising with the Treasury on the matter. The Administrator said that he was not in a position to speak as to what the Provincial Treasury was going to do about the members of the audit committee. He also said that it was up to the SIU to determine who did or did not do their jobs.
Dr George referred to the example of a Limpopo college, where the Department had requested additional funds to build a toilet block when the initial contract with the particular contractor was for the construction of a classroom. How did such a thing happen? What made it worse was the second request was made when only 30% of the initial contract had been completed.
The Chairperson said that it was important for the Department to explain how it allowed such a transaction to be done. It did not make sense that there should be a variation of 103% for the contract.
Mr Dondashe replied that there were a couple of variation orders on the project. The main one was where R11 million had been added which was more than the original contract amount. The problem was that people had to relocate from the building before the service provider could commence work and this meant an additional R11 million was needed for the provision of temporary offices for head office officials. This particular contract was a suspicious one and was being investigated. This was an old situation but the current policy was that the Provincial Treasury now had to approve all variation orders above 20%.
Mr Singh asked if there were any firm policies and processes in place to deal with variation orders and had they been ratified by the executive authorities. Who appointed the advisory professionals and what process was used to appoint project managers?
Mr Mzwandile Matthews, Administrator for the Limpopo Provincial Department for Education, said a letter had been written by the Limpopo Department of Education. The letter indicated that the renovations at the college were to be carried out in phases. The variation was generated by the then General Manager, supported by the then Chief Financial Officer and approved by the then Head of Department.
Mr Dondashe said that the Department used the Joint Building Contracts Committee which was a universally accepted building contract arrangement between an agent and a client. There was a standard contract and there were special conditions which were not covered under the standard contract.
On the appointment of project managers, the Head of Department, Mr Madidimalo Chaamano said that beyond the National and Provincial Supply Chain Policies, there was a transversal policy which was approved by the executive authority and institutionalised by the various departments. This policy was very clear on the management of the variation order. The experience in the past had been that the cap of 20% had been abused. A variation order should not be a new scope. Variation orders were to be for matters such as increased prices in cement or other building material. The Department was now rejecting proposals from contractors to treat new scopes as variation orders.
The Chairperson asked how the abuse of the variation order policy got into the system. Why was such a wrong procedure allowed in the first place?
Mr Chaamano said that the events were also a surprise to them and that was why they had handed over everything to be investigated by the SIU and the DPSA. There was also a lot of negligence.
The Chairperson asked if Mr Chaamano was not present when all that happened.
Mr Chaamano replied that he was not there at the time. There had been serious mismanagement with the appointment of project managers, as there were people who were qualified to become project managers but they were not given the opportunity while those who were not qualified, were made project managers. The intervention team had been able to make a thorough investigation of this and the results were almost ready.
Mr Thobejane said that when the variation order increased by 20% it meant that the scope of work had changed. A new scope meant a new tender and did not have to be given automatically to the same contractor. Why was this not followed?
Mr Chaamano replied that the intervention team noted that the policies and procedures were not followed. New scopes were included in variation orders.
The Chairperson said that what the HOD was saying was that a contractor could win a tender for R5 million and end up doing work for R100 million without going through another tender process.
Mr Chaamano agreed that such was the situation before the intervention of the task team. The matters were now being investigated and such negligence was being considered as corruption.
The Chairperson said that at no point was that negligence.
Mr Chaamano said that it was irregular expenditure.
Mr Dondashe said that the report from the SIU was going to reveal the true intentions of the variation orders and no speculations were going to be done.
The Chairperson said that the Committee was going to be very interested in seeing the reports of the investigation.
Mr R Ainslie (ANC) said that the report of the Auditor-General was quite clear that contraventions of the law were widespread in Limpopo. The report stated that in 83% of the projects audited, the law had been broken. What was disturbing was that the Department intended to hand over only 15 projects to the SIU. A far wider investigation was required. These irregularities were going to be seen in hundreds of projects. The report from the Department stated that the rejection of bids which were below or higher than its estimates were done in accordance with the law but the AG’s report was clear in saying that the processes were done in contravention of regulations.
Mr Dondashe said that with regards to a far wider investigation, 1 234 schools had been built for the Department of Education. It was true that the problem was definitely much bigger than the 15 schools referred to in the report. The Department of Public Works was currently subjecting all its schools to a project detail which opened the project to exposure and scrutiny. A far wider investigation was important and was going to be done.
Mr Ainslie asked that how was such a reform by the Department going to be successful when the AG had reported that documents were missing. What did the Department intend to do as a proper investigation required proper documentation.
Mr Dondashe replied that the enormity of the situation could only be understood when the lost documents were found. However, in most cases it was not only an issue of lost documentation. There were professional service providers who had to adhere to certain norms and standards thus such non-adherence was going to be identified.
The Chairperson asked where the documentation for a particular project were to be kept and maintained.
The General Manager for Construction Management at the Limpopo Department of Public Works, Ms Kate Machaba replied that the Department had a registry where all project files were recoded. The professional service providers also kept records in their respective companies. In each file, there was a checklist which indicated what was to be contained in each file and the project manager had the responsibility of ensuring that the documents in each file were kept properly.
The Chairperson asked if Ms Machaba was the one responsible for the files.
Ms Machaba replied that the registry was under Corporate Services.
The Chairperson asked who was responsible for Corporate Services.
There was nobody who was in charge of Corporate Services but the HOD, Mr Chaamano replied that the issue of project management had been raised by the AG and the registry could not have any record unless it was generated by the practitioner.
The Chairperson said that it was the responsibility of the Department to demand the documents from the practitioner. What was important was that the end points of the clearly defined processes were not working.
Mr Ainslie said that in this case, missing files was the foundation to corruption. Could the Department submit the name of a single official who had been disciplined for misplacing or losing documentation? What action had been taken?
Mr Chaamano said that he was new in the Department.
Mr Ainslie said that the Department was not taking the matter seriously and people were getting away with corruption and incompetence, there was irregular expenditure on a massive scale, there was fraud and corruption but the Department could not give the name of a single individual who had been sanctioned for incompetence or misconduct. It was simply not good enough.
Mr Dondashe said that he did not want to sound like a broken record but the cases had been referred to the SIU and the DPSA. The Committee was going to receive the results and findings of the investigations.
Mr Ainslie said that the Department and its officials were hiding behind the SIU. The Department did not need the SIU to discipline someone who stole or was hiding files. The Department could do it themselves but “they did not have the stomach for it”.
Ms A Muthambi (ANC) said that it was easy for them to make a follow up to get the files but why was it difficult for them to hand over the same files to the AG.
Ms R Nyalungu (ANC) asked whether before handing over the files to the SIU, any officials had been suspended or were the officials still within the Department.
Mr Dondashe replied that no officials had been suspended.
Mr Ainslie said that Mr Dondashe’s reply was proof to the fact that there were no consequences and the irregularities were going to continue if serious measures were not put in place.
Mr Dondashe said that he was a deployee from the National Department and the SIU and the DPSA were part of the intervention team. It was therefore not wrong for the Administrator to refer issues to an established and credible institution which was part of the intervention team. The Administration relied on the expertise of the SIU and the DPSA.
Mr Matthews said that there were many cases and the Department had decided that when the SIU investigated matters which had some element of criminality, such an action was going to be preceded by some disciplinary process. While the SIU was working on the criminal side, DPSA was going to take disciplinary action against the culprits. The challenge was the speed at which these processes were done. Also the Department still had to work with the same people who allegedly had committed the wrongdoings. The issues happened prior to the Administration.
Ms Muthambi said that there could not be an excuse of the HOD saying that he was new. After his appointment, his first task was to acclimatise himself with the work environment and the surrounding circumstances. There was a clear lack of appetite to discipline and it also indicated that Parliament was not being taken seriously.
Mr Thobejane asked the Administrators to tell the Committee what was preventing them from executing their duty fully.
The Chairperson asked what was hindering simple disciplinary actions from being taken against culprits in the Department.
Mr Mathews replied that the Administrators had the execution of the Public Service Act as their main domain. As Administrators, the main duties were derived from the PFMA and it was clear that if the Administrators had the powers, they would have long taken action against the people in the Department.
The Minister of Public Works said that in law, the HOD for instance, could not be removed by the Administrator as he was appointed by the Premier. All that could be done was to recommend to the Premier. It was however common knowledge that there had been contestation of the intervention in Limpopo. It was not a scenario where the Administrators moved in with a group of people that were glad to work with them. There had been serious contestation with statements and counter statements. What further complicated the matter was the fact that there was an existing complex system of bureaucracy which was deeply rooted. Most often, very simple things were made difficult by procedures and processes of decision making. At times, the disciplinary proceedings had to rely on the very suspects. The Department had to still be accountable. What was very clear was that getting into an area where systems had collapsed, the changing of deeply rooted wrong cultures was very difficult. It was important for the Committee to look into Section 100 of the Constitution to verify the taking over by the National Department and the possible negotiation of the process.
With regards to the slow nature of the disciplinary processes, the Minister said that some of the issues were within the terrain of the Department of Public Works and processes had been put in place but some of the processes were dependent on the very people who were being questioned. There were complexities such as people bringing in advocates for mere disciplinary hearings. This meant that the preparation of the Department had to be proper. This was usually seen in high profile cases.
The Chairperson said that the impunity of certain civil servant was an issue which was ceasing to be administrative but political. The Committee was going to have another day with the Minister in the month of March when all the issues concerning Public Works were going to be discussed.
The Chairperson said that he hoped that the concerns raised by Members were assisting the Departments to identify areas which needed urgent intervention. It was very disturbing to find government officials acting as if they did not care for their country and had no sense of self beyond the personal and individualistic. The mentality of primitive accumulation which was being nurtured in the public service was a wrong and a false one. It was very wrong. What the Committee needed to consider was getting the SIU, the DPSA and some of the officials from the Departments in for a closed meeting where the hindrances could be discussed. A sense of outrage with the desire to put a stop to these malpractices was necessary. A follow-up meeting was necessary to ensure that the processes and the work of the Committee were not moving in circles.
The meeting was adjourned.
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