The Portfolio Committee was briefed by the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure and South African Police Service (SAPS) on the state of Parliamentary villages.
Members' concerns included the lack of police visibility at the villages, which has led to criminals walking freely around the villages; the non-functioning alarm and intercom systems; dilapidated buildings and dumped old cars which have a possibility of posing a security threat on the Members
The Committee found it concerning that the last SAPS risk assessment in the three parliamentary villages was conducted in August 2012; that security at parliamentary villages is not within the SAPS funded mandate; nor are the villages included within the Risk Management Support System (RIMAS). Additionally, the Parliamentary Villages Management Board had not met since 2017, while the villages’ residential committees, elected in 2019, have not met collectively as the Parliamentary Villages Management Board. The Chairperson stated that management should meet before the end of March. She noted that village committees should meet at least monthly until the pressing concerns have been addressed.
The Committee also told DPWI to fast-track the process of renovating the houses containing asbestos materials, as asbestos poses serious health risks to MPs occupying those houses. The government decided in 2008 to prohibit the use of asbestos in immovable structures and the presence of asbestos in these structures contravenes that decision.
The Chairperson noted that there are concerns about the parliamentary villages still emanating from the Fifth Parliament which have not yet been addressed. These include the fall of the perimeter wall which resulted in security risk; cameras and intercoms not working; houses are in a state that is not inhabitable and most of them have asbestos which poses a health risk.
Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Ms Patricia De Lille, referred to Acacia Park and noted that they have met monthly with Presiding Officer, Thandi Modise, to deal with all the infrastructure problems. They have appointed an outside assessor to assess the buildings for items such as the building lifts. Additionally, they are trying to assess the tenders that have been done in the past. She added that she has delegated the Deputy Minister to look after all the parliament villages. They, therefore, hope to find solutions and try and schedule maintenance for the whole year besides just reacting to problems. She said that they have failed to demolish the asbestos houses but they need to be demolished, although it is quite a process as they have to comply with health standards.
The Chairperson agreed that the meetings with the Presiding Officer should continue, however, this does not take their away from the role as this Committee to exercise oversight.
State of Parliamentary Villages: Department of Public Works & Infrastructure (DPWI)
Mr Sam Vukela , DPWI Director General, and Mr Mzwandile Sazona, DPWI Chief Director: Prestige Policy, presented the briefing on the accommodation at the parliamentary villages:
• Acacia Park comprises of 493 units: 257 units which are occupied by Members of Parliament, 224 by sessional officials, 7 occupied by political support staff to Members of Parliament with a disability, 2 are occupied by DPWI standby officials, 1 is utilised as office space and 90 domestic rooms.
• Laboria Park comprises of 65 units, 55 units occupied by MPs, 6 by sessional officials, 2 occupied by political support staff, 1 by DPWI standby official, 1 is utilised as office space and 10 domestic rooms.
• Pelican Park comprises of 108 units, 65 units occupied by MPs, 27 by sessional officials, 14 occupied by political support staff, 1 occupied by DPWI standby official, 1 utilised as office space and 12 domestic rooms.
The challenges include that the building structures require ongoing attention as they have reached the end of their life span. There is a need for urgent attention to the refurbishment of kitchens, bathrooms, floors, walls, and roofs. DPWI is ready to commence with the project, as soon as Parliament confirms the project and DPWI’s decanting plan. However ongoing maintenance is carried out as and when required such as day to day maintenance and minor works.
The units accommodating sessional officials have been upgraded and are in good condition. The challenge, however, is the late confirmations of sessional officials by DPWI for that specific parliamentary session. This creates an unnecessary bottleneck for DPWI as preparations for the occupation of the allocated units sometimes require that DPWI has to repeat the same cleaning and preparation more than once.
In Acacia Park, there is an inability to attend to the general upkeep of the rooms and communal areas of the domestic quarters due to overcrowding and ongoing occupation resulting in deterioration of the structures including health and safety risks posed to tenants over time. In Pelican Park even though eviction letters were issued in 2019, 7 rooms are still occupied. In Laboria Park one room is still occupied even though the eviction letter has been issued.
They are having access control challenges as the fingerprint readers are not functioning well. The software must be upgraded often otherwise there is a delay in registration at times and causes tenants irritation and panic. Intercoms are problematic and alarms are outdated and there is no signal.
Other challenges were listed:
Tenants who do want to register their visitors, taxis/ ubers. There is the theft of optic fibre cables that cause damage to access control equipment. There is damage to the boom gates caused by tenants. There are findings that SAPS compromises the system at times where they remove access control equipment from the plugs to charge their phones and playing cards on the computer meant for access control purposes only.
There are undeclared long-term visitors roaming the streets of the villages as they are left alone in the houses during the day or weekends in the absence of the tenant. Some dependants of the tenants make noise and host parties abusing alcohol and drugs.
Residents are not reporting day to day maintenance issues to the DPWI site office. There is maintenance work that falls outside the scope of the facilities management contract such as upgrades and new installations.
The grounds and gardens are in poor condition due to the water restrictions as a result of drought. Vehicles parked on the grass are damaging the irrigation system including SAPS vehicles.
There is the vandalism of state property by the tenants. The main sewerage line outside Acacia Park is causing blockages in the E block section.
There is poor coordination of transport for the MPs during late sittings.
The poor condition of the old stoves in the MP units was noted and some units require bedroom and lounge furniture, as well as fridges.
SAPS briefing on Parliamentary Villages
General Khehla Sitole SAPS National Commissioner, commented on the three villages:
• Acacia Park in Goodwood (Risk assessment completed: 1985-11-20. Latest audit completed 2012-06-28). With 535 residences. There is a perimeter wall and fence. CCTV at the main entrance and perimeter. Burglar bars and response capability.
• Laboria Park in Belhar (Risk assessment completed: 1985-09-04. Latest audit completed 2012-08-22). With 65 residences. The perimeter wall and fence need attention. There are CCTV cameras at the main entrance. Burglar bars and response capability.
• Pelikan Park in Grassy Park (Risk assessment completed: 1985-09-04. Latest audit completed 2012-08-24). With 108 residences. The perimeter wall and fence need attention. CCTV cameras at the main entrance. Burglar bars and armed response.
The SAPS integrated police approach includes he local SAPS Station which offers assistance with sector policing; response to criminal activities; investigation of reported crime and crime pattern analysis.
Another of their integrated approach concerning public works include; Parliamentary Villages Management Board Coordination (last board meeting held in 2017); Occupancy verification; Residential Committees activation; Rules and conditions for Parliamentary Villages; Maintenance of alarm annunciation systems; Status of implementation and evaluation of Security Advisory assessments; Testing of alarms; Maintenance contractor for electronic access control systems. (PSS experience challenges with system failures. Creates inconsistency). Telephone systems at the entrances to the residences.
Their integrated approach concerning the occupants includes compliance with rules & conditions; setting off alarms, reporting of visitors expected; crime awareness: interaction with SAPS and selection of residential committees for 3 villages.
Their way forward includes; activation of Parliamentary villages management board; activation of monthly/quarterly residential committees for 3 Parliamentary villages; revisit of outdated rules and conditions for Parliamentary villages and communication (electronic newsletter suggested with Residents).
Mr W Thring (ACDP) noted that DPWI mention new sites. He asked where those sites are going to be. He asked if there is any indication from the Chief Whips Forum on the reason permission was withheld for the scheduled refurbishment work. It is concerning that the security of Parliament is not a funded mandate of SAPS and that the villages are currently not included within the Risk Management Support System (RIMAS). He pointed out that it seems as if Acacia Park has slipped their attention as the fence at Acacia Park has fallen, and this poses a security risk.
Ms M Hicklin (DA) said that she had never had a working alarm system. She has never seen any patrol in Acacia Parka and as a result, she is even afraid to sleep with her windows open. She sometimes hears people walking outside her unit at night. She does not know how to contact people at the gate to come and assist her in an emergency and as a result, she has some of her colleagues on speed dial.
She noted that the presentation stated 2 March as the start date for the first cycle of 49 units. It is 10 March and the process has not yet taken off.
Ms S Graham (DA) started by appreciating the work being done by the DPWI officers at Acacia Park which describes as phenomenal. She said that the staff there are so helpful and excellent. She heard that Acacia Park is not owned by government but rather by a private trust which she finds concerning as they are investing millions in someone’s property.
She asked what kind of handover is being done when the MPs move out of the houses. This is because if they are failing to do proper handovers, DPWI is failing to hold them accountable for damages they might have negligently caused.
She noted that those MPs who utilise the transport are serial latecomers. Some action should be done about those who do not comply with the rules.
She once experienced a smash and grab and went to report the matter at the Acacia Park Police Station and was told that they do not deal with the reporting of cases. She wanted to know why that is.
The lease agreement on the bakkies used by the Public Works personnel has expired. She asked for a way forward as there are no bakkies for the personnel to use.
Mr P Van Staden (FF+) said that the telephone system and alarm system is not working. The gardens are in a terrible state. There is vandalism of property to the extent that they are afraid to park their cars not far from their houses. There is also vandalism of government property. There is a lack of vehicles that result in DPWI personnel using shopping trolleys to transport their equipment.
MPs should have been moved to other places at the beginning of the term. He asked to where the MPs will be moved during the renovations and at what cost.
He noted that some police officers are disrespecting the MPs. New rules are introduced which are not being communicated to the MPs.
The last audit report for Acacia was done in 2012. This a problem as this should be done yearly. Lastly, he had never seen police dogs patrolling in the nine months that he has lived in Acacia Park.
Mr E Mathebula (ANC) raised his concern about police visibility. In the past year he has not seen a police officer patrolling which he finds concerning. There are a lot of security breaches that happen at the gate. For example, the only person that is required to be identified when vehicles enter is the driver and not the passengers. Anyone including criminals can get in unidentified.
He asked what the plan is for the dilapidated buildings as these can be used as a criminal hideout. Kids do not have enough space to play. There are not enough houses for MPs to live in. He asked when they are going to upgrade the alarm system which is not working.
Ms S Van Schalkwyk (ANC) noted that the intercom system has never worked, and the alarm system once worked for a short time. How much are they going to spend on the project and has any spending been done yet for servicing? On the backrooms being used by people who are not MPs, they needed to engage with Members to ensure that the information they are sharing is coherent with what is happening in reality.
She is concerned about children who are schooling there who are constantly loitering around the gate even up to 6 pm. The other concern was the old cars from previous MPs left there and taking up space.
On the positives, she commended SAPs for an increase in their patrol that they do especially when their children are on recess to ensure their safety.
Ms L Mjobo (ANC) noted that only one entrance gate is work at Acacia Park and she wanted to know why. She noted a concern about the gym in Acacia Park. DPWI maintains that only the building is its responsibility and ensuring that gym equipment is available is the duty of Parliament. Yet Parliament maintains that is the duty of DPWI. Furniture is the responsibility of Public Works; what then is the difference between furniture and gym equipment?
The Chairperson noted that maintenance challenges are not only happening in Parliament villages. In other government buildings the lack of maintenance is rather shocking. For example, elevators are not working. It is worrisome that the last risk assessment was done in 2012 and that the Parliamentary Villages Management Board has not met since 2017. She pointed to the rules changing and yet those rules are hardly made known to them. She asked how load shedding is impacting the state of security. She also asked what is being done to remove the old cars which have been left in the villages for a long time.
She asked if they have statistics to support the claims being made such certain units hosting loud parties. Asbestos has been banned in South Africa because of the health risk it poses. They need to fast track the renovations.
Ms Hicklin added that they do not have fibre or internet access. She asked if anything is being done to ensure that they have internet.
Mr Sazona noted that the Parliament board is supposed to have been set because without it they will not be able to monitor the progress. The intercom system is part of the new project. They were going to do another assessment of the alarm system and see what remedial actions will be done.
DPWI is not doing the handovers properly to be able to charge for negligent damage. They do sign contracts with the MPs when they move in but not to the extent of assessing the condition of the house when they move out. It is something that they will implement. In reply to a question about air conditioners, they do not have any air conditioners but they will look into it. They spent about R6 million to refurbish the gym building and their responsibility lies with the immovable structure. Parliament was supposed to ensure that the gym had equipment. However, they will do the costing and then make a decision from there. They will ensure that there is fortnightly checking of the drains and sewage. A challenge that they face is whether Parliament will move from Cape Town and hence they are avoiding spending money on these facilities.
They will follow up and ensure that the cars are removed. They have a legal opinion that they should first write to the owners and if they do not respond, the cars will be removed.
On the internet, Parliament should first commit that it will take on the responsibility for Wifi access and DPWI will ensure to put the infrastructure in place.
Members are going to be relocated to [inaudible] Flats and the cost for relocation is estimated to be R6 million for five months.
Their initial master plan for the site of the new site was to move Laboria Park and Pelican Park to Acacia Park and make it one park. However, they are not following that plan because of the uncertainty of the move of Parliament. Thus they cannot answer for sure which site they are going to use.
He replied that in most cases the occupants of the back rooms are linked to the MPs. It might be relatives of the MPs who will be occupying the rooms. They are working on a plan for the dilapidated buildings. The Acacia Park property was bought and is now owned by Public Works.
R110 million has been budgeted for the renovation of the 240 units. They will move in phases of 50 units at a time. They are still waiting for the decision to be made by Parliament for the project to commence so they can issue a letter to the contractor.
On reporting cases at the police station in the village, SAPS Commissioner Sitole replied that any person who comes across a police station is entitled to service. If they do not provide such a service, it is misconduct and should be escalated.
He noted that police visibility is an issue that needs to be looked into. However, he said that there are some policy issues that SAPS will need assistance with. SAPS had made the following recommendations to Parliament: the need for a security dispensation that will cover the static protection of parliamentarians and the need for policy direction.
Gen Sitole replied that by the end of March they should have done the physical security risk assessment with the agreement of Parliament. The old stationary cars are a big security issue and there is a need for an urgent removal of those cars. The dilapidated buildings need to be demolished or renovated and occupied immediately as they also pose a security risk.
On the school kids loitering around, he replied that initially the schools were meant only for the children of the Members. However, the schools are now open to the public and they do not know who made that decision. This poses a security risk and he recommended that the initial plan should be restored. SAPS recommended that the municipality remove or clear environmental design elements. They also recommended the review of the rules as they are now outdated. On patrol dogs, SAPS would look at its resources to see if this can be done.
Deputy Minister response
Deputy Minister Noxolo Kiviet noted that Parliament has to agree that the security plan includes police. On the removal of cars, It becomes the responsibility of Parliament to move members and their property such as the old cars. The cars should be moved to the known address of the previous MPs who left them. Some of the buildings are going to be renovated.
She said that the board should have been elected long ago at the time of the first State of the Nation Address. Acacia Park was due to have a meeting to elect its board but she is not sure if it happened. These delays have therefore led to not having aboard.
The police are also included in that board because the rules that change are supposed to be done in those board meetings. They will ensure that the work of the board is resumed as it will go a long way to resolve some of the issues.
She noted that the major issue that is holding them back is the signal from Parliament, that is, the Chief Whips Forum.
The Chairperson stated that the Physical Risk Assessment must continue as it has been over eight years. She also acknowledged the recommendations made by SAPS are progressive. Some challenges are pressing such as drain blockages which should not be blamed on the uncertainty of the movement of Parliament. The election of the board was done last year including that of Acacia Park and management should meet before the end of March. She said that village committees should meet at least monthly until the pressing concerns have been addressed.
The meeting was adjourned.
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