Committee Report on Germany Study Tour

Public Works

30 October 2018
Chairperson: Mr H Mmemezi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee considered the draft report of its study tour to Germany between September 9 and 13, and agreed on the importance of the report including a list of the names of all the Members who had participated. There was a unanimous observation amongst the Members of the similarities between the ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Nachhaltiges Bauen’ (DGNB), or German Sustainable Building Council, and the Green Building Council (GBC) of South Africa, and said that the GBC could learn a lot from the entity. Buildings needed to be designed with their longevity being a priority, and therefore people had to be educated about how to love and take care of them.

The Members who were delegated to attend the tour were impressed by the security detail at the Bundestag, despite the venue being open to access by the members of the public as well as tourists.

There was a concern about the surplus inventory that was currently stored by the management of the South African Embassy in Berlin. The Members had noticed that there was a lot of furniture that was not adequately stored and could deteriorate over time. They said the report inaccurately represented the condition of the embassy -- there were signs of neglect and the maintenance was clearly not done frequently enough. They agreed that refurbishing the former embassy building in Bonn would not be worth the cost and the land value, and the Committee recommended the sale of this property. There was a proposal that the Minister should investigate negligence within DIRCO and the DPW for retaining the bonded properties and allowing them to deteriorate to the current state they were in, with a view to taking disciplinary action and future corrective measures. The Members then deliberated on the Minister possibly having to review the custodian user model that was currently in place

Meeting report

 
Germany Study Tour report


Mr Shuaib Denyssen, Committee Content Advisor, started by pointing out inaccuracies in the numbering of the report. He suggested that the word ‘selecting’, in the first sub-heading of the Introduction, should be substituted with the word ‘touring’, because it could mislead the reader into thinking that these reasons were noted during the planning stage of the trip.

Mr F Adams (ANC) objected, and pointed out that the word ‘touring’ alone could present a false image to the members of the public, because they would have reason to believe that state funds were being misused for the leisure of the Parliamentarians. Instead, it should be labelled as ‘study tour’, to indicate the purpose of the trip.

The Members agreed with Mr Adams’s motion.

Mr D Ryder (DA) raised the importance of the report including a list of the names of all the Members who attended the study tour.

Mr Adams supported Mr Ryder’s proposal, and added that the list should be the first point of the report. It should detail the delegation, the delegation leader and the Members, along with the political parties to which they each were associated.

Mr Ryder pointed out the inaccuracy of the tour dates, stating that the trip was actually between 9 and 13 September. He highlighted the importance of noting the importance of the events of the 9th, when the Members had a meeting with the ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Nachhaltiges Bauen’ (DGNB), which was very informative about how the South African Embassy operated and interacted with the local councils. The fact that the Committee was working on a Sunday had to be recorded.

Mr Denyssen said that section 1.1 would be amended and become an outline of the delegation of attendees; section 1.2 would be the reasons for the study tour to the Federal Republic of Germany; the strategic objectives and focus areas would follow, respectively.

Cognisant of time considerations, he then proposed that the rest of the numbering structure of the report be sorted out at a different time, after the meeting. He also pointed out that the document would sometimes use the English translation of the DGNB acronym – German Sustainable Building Council. The German form of the acronym would be included as a footnote to page 2.

Mr Ryder shared his observation of the similarities between the DGNB and the Green Building Council (GBC) of South Africa, stating that the GBC could learn a lot from the DGNB. One of the most important lessons he had learned from the visit to DGNB was the fact that sustainability was not only about directly preserving and protecting the environment -- buildings needed to be designed with their longevity being a priority. People had to be educated about how to love and take care of them. One idea that could be appropriated from DGNB was the involvement of social scientists in the design process in order to ensure that the buildings met the needs of their occupants.

Mr Ryder commented that the visit to the Bundestag had not been thoroughly included in the report. He was impressed by the security detail at the Bundestag, despite the venue being open to access by the members of the public as well as tourists. He reckoned that that should also be mentioned in the report.

Ms Adams (ANC) supported Mr Ryder, and added that the South African Police Service (SAPS) and special security units could learn a great deal from the way the Germans operate and implement their services. The Committee was certainly recognised, but did not get any overboard special dignitary treatment.

The Chairperson commented that a significant portion of the public servants in South Africa were not passionate about their work and committed to their mandate.

Mr Adams briefly explained the historic background surrounding the German Parliament and juxtaposed it to the South African case, stating that the Parliament of South Africa was not sufficiently friendly to the members of the public. He also proposed that the Department of Public Works (DPW) should recommend the German access control model.

Mr Ryder said that he would be pleased by an inclusion of the surplus inventory that was currently stored by the management of the Berlin Embassy. He said there was a lot of furniture that was not adequately stored and could deteriorate over time. He also mentioned that the report inaccurately represented the condition of the embassy -- there were signs of neglect, and the maintenance was clearly not done frequently enough. The requisitions that were submitted to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) were processed and authorised only after a period of 14 months. He then concluded that DIRCO did not seem to have the capacity to manage and maintain the German-based South African properties, and perhaps these buildings should be operated by the DPW.

Mr Denyssen indicated that the report did stipulate the reasons for the delay in the requisitions.

Mr Ryder remained adamant that the report did not specifically mention that the inventory at the embassy was haphazardly disposed into the basement of the building and other unsuitable places, which made it susceptible to damage.

The Chairperson supported Mr Ryder’s point, stating that the management of issues by DIRCO had been unanimously considered to be unreliable. The report should also prominently capture this.

Ms Adams affirmed that the inventory belongs to South Africa. She recalled that before 1994, the buildings had been well furnished and the equipment well kept. The DPW and DIRCO should work collaboratively, and there should not be a diversion of responsibility and blame shifting.

Mr Adams asserted that DIRCO should account for the maintenance budget that was allocated to it by the National Treasury.

Dr M Figg (DA) discouraged the idea of solely blaming the DIRCO for the mishandling of the inventory and poor building maintenance, stating that the DPW partially had the responsibility.

The Chairperson accentuated Ms Adams’ words, stating that the DPW and DIRCO should work together. He commented that some government employees, particularly within the DPW, had shown a lack of passionate patriotism in handling the property of the state, when based in foreign countries. He added that on the other hand, DIRCO had been given a clear mandate for managing foreign affairs.

Mr Ryder asked if there was sufficient emphasis on the reasons for relocating the embassy from Bonn to Berlin.

Mr Denyssen acknowledged Mr Ryder’s query, and said that it would be added on to the report.

Mr Ryder commented that refurbishing the former embassy building in Bonn would not be worth the cost and the land value. The heating and cooling system of the building had not operated for 20 years. The technology behind it was also outdated and irreplaceable because spare parts were no longer available.

Mr Denyssen suggested some of the contents of the recommendations section were unnecessary elaborations, and should be removed, specifically the two bullet points under section 2.11.1 (as per the initial numbering). He also proposed that recommendation 2.11.2 should be restructured and limited to the end of the sentence on line 4 of first the paragraph, saying that what came after it was not imperative.

He continued that the third recommendation would refer to the lessons learned in Brodowin about how land in rural areas could be used.

The Chairperson expounded on the lessons learned in Brodowin, stating that the rural farmers united, doing organic farming, and had established a recognised trading market in Berlin.

Mr Ryder pointed out that although the farming was initially collaborative, one of the farmers had subsequently bought out the majority of the other shareholders.

The Chairperson differed, and said that the farms were still utilised with the primary intention of reducing poverty and empowering society.

Ms Inez Stephney, Committee Researcher, reckoned that a way of preventing the development of a monopoly would be to include a precautionary measure in the form of a legal clause that prohibited the acquisition of the majority of shares by one individual, family or organisation.

Mr Ryder opined that recommendation 2.11.5.3 was not viable. He felt that for the DPW to send individuals to evaluate an environment they were not used to working in, would not yield fruitful results and would result in time being wasted.

He also suggested that these properties were a burden and needed to be sold urgently because it was not within the mandate and expertise of the DPW to develop them. The Minister should instruct his staff to consider the best available acquisition offers.

He recommended that the Minister should investigate negligence within DIRCO and the DPW for retaining the bonded properties and allowing them to deteriorate to the current state they were in, with a view to take disciplinary action and future corrective measures. The act of locking the doors of these buildings and abandoning them had led to a decrease in the value of these state assets. The Minister should also review, in consultation with DIRCO and in terms of the Government Immovable Asset Management Act (GIAMA), the custodian user model currently in place, with the clear indication of the need for capacitation of Departments. He added that there should be a report back to the Committee concerning how this matter was to be dealt with.

Mr Adams pointed out that the Committee would be meeting with DIRCO the following day concerning the Foreign Service Bill, and that would be a relevant platform for the review of the custodian user model. He insisted that implementing the model into the bill would turn it into an Act that must be obeyed as a statute of law, even by a subsequent Ministerial administration.

Mr Ryder responded that the bill input had to come from somewhere. Sequentially, the conclusions from the study tours to Germany and Namibia led to the recommendations, which would ultimately translate into being added on to the bill.

Ms L Mjobo (ANC) proposed adoption of the report, with amendments, and various Members seconded. The report was adopted.


Adoption of minutes

Ms Mjobo moved the adoption of the minutes of October 23, and Ms D Mathebe (ANC) seconded.

The minutes were adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.




 

Present

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