Beitbridge border fence oversight visit: Public Works Minister & stakeholders

Public Accounts (SCOPA)

06 October 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Hlengwa (IFP)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Standing Committee on Public Accounts, 6 October 2020

25 Aug 2020

Beitbridge border fence findings; with Minister, SIU, Treasury

03 Jun 2020

DPWI on Beitbridge border fence procurement; with Ministry

The virtual meeting was called to allow Members to pose questions to the relevant stakeholders on the investigation of the flawed emergency procurement of a border fence between South Africa and Zimbabwe at Beitbridge in Limpopo. This followed observations made by the Committee during an oversight visit at the border.

The following stakeholders participated in the discussions: the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, the Department of Defence and Military Veterans, the Special Investigations Unit and the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission.

The Committee condemned the absence of National Treasury for its lack of cooperation in resolving the matter and the Chairperson said this was in dereliction of its mandated duties.

The Chairperson summarised that it was beyond dispute that corruption occurred at Beitbridge. During the oversight visit, the Committee concluded that the border fence does not meet the prescribed requirements. The fence that was built is not fit for purpose and is fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The 122 breaches of the border are an indictment of those involved and indicate that there are additional challenges concerning the ability of the Defence Force to ensure that the border is secured.

The Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure and the Head of the Special Investigations Unit acknowledged that the fence is indeed not fit for purpose. The bill of quantities was not consistent with the drawings and the procurement process was not compliant with National Treasury regulations and section 217 of the Constitution. The Department had failed to enter into a competitive bidding process. Professional fees were inflated.

Members asked about the current status of the 13 public works officials allegedly involved in corruption related to the procurement of the fence. These include the Director-General of Public Works and Infrastructure and also an advisor to the Minister.

The Special Investigations Unit reported that it is currently pursuing civil litigation to recover R21 million that had been paid to the service providers. The case was on the roll of the Special Tribunal for 8 October 2020. An application had been filed to freeze the accounts of the service providers involved. Charges have been laid against all the officials who are allegedly involved in the misconduct.

Members expressed concern at the general state of border management at Beitbridge. The meeting discussed a video that showed South African soldiers escorting Zimbabweans who had entered the country illegally to shops and clinics before accompanying them back to Zimbabwe. This was during the COVID-19 lockdown period while borders were shut. The Minister of Defence said that she had decided not to take action against the soldiers because of the dire socio-economic conditions in Zimbabwe. She believed that any humane person would have done the same as the soldiers. Some Members said the Minister’s response was surprising and contradicted the President’s proclamation of a state of emergency which called for the safeguarding of borders. Members said it is apparent that there has been a collapse of diplomatic relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe. There may be a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, but interventions should be compliant with South Africa’s regulations on the legal movement of people across borders.

The Committee agreed it would make recommendations to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure about presenting reports on the disciplinary process. The Committee expects that consequence management will be commensurate with the malfeasance that has been exposed

Meeting report

The virtual meeting was called to allow Members to pose questions to the relevant stakeholders on the investigation of the flawed emergency procurement of a borderline fence at Beitbridge in Limpopo. This followed observations made by the Committee during an oversight visit at the border.

The Chairperson welcomed all colleagues and stakeholders from the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), Department of Defence (DoD), Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC).  He acknowledged the Minister and Deputy Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Ms Patricia de Lille and Ms Noxolo Kiviet, and the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. He expressed disappointment at the absence of National Treasury which had also failed to produce reports for the Committee timeously - this demonstrated a lack of cooperation.

The Chairperson said the oversight visit to Beitbridge had only confirmed the Committee’s worst fears—that the fence was not fit for purpose. In addition, numerous breaches had been reported making it clear that corruption had occurred and that the procurement process was flawed and non-compliant with Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) regulations.

Ms Sonto Kudjoe, Secretary for Defence, told Members that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had unfortunately not been part of the delegation that had visited Beitbridge border.  Nonetheless, it was fitting to attend the meeting to gain an understanding of the issues emanating from the discussion in order to see what role SANDF can play in the future.

The Chairperson responded and said it was not a matter of SANDF being present at the oversight visit. What SCOPA wants to determine is SANDF’s assessment of the appropriateness of the fence given that they are the main end-users.

Ms Kudjoe requested that Brig Gen Kwezi Nompetsheni, SANDF address that question as he was more equipped to do so.

Brig Gen Nompetsheni said that he was unaware that SANDF was expected to make a report about the fence. He agreed with the Chairperson that SANDF is indeed the end-user of the fence but the primary responsibility for the fence lies with DPWI.  He was not privy to the report made to the Committee in March and could not comment further.

The Chairperson said it was not a matter of delivering a presentation, rather the Committee wanted to get a reaction from SANDF about what is on the ground at Beitbridge. Members had been surprised to find significant military presence along the borderline during the most recent site visit. If this was the case under normal circumstances, why is the fence in its current state? The SANDF had been present at a previous site visit in March and should therefore be able to answer what role it has played in this matter.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said the Department of Defence had been invited to the meeting to receive SCOPA’s findings following the oversight visit. She acknowledged that there had been a team from SANDF which had made a similar visit in March. What was now crucial was to discuss the current state of the fence following its construction and the illegal crossing of Zimbabwean nationals which has continued despite the fence. In her understanding, the Chairperson wants to understand what SANDF’s view is on the situation and what role they have played in the matter.

She told Brig Gen Nompetsheni that whether or not SANDF was present at the oversight visit was not important. As Joint Operations he is responsible for the military on the ground at the border. What SCOPA needs is for SANDF to elaborate on what it has done to reinforce the efforts made by the DPWI in constructing the fence. Admittedly, SANDF was not part of the procurement process of the fence, however, it is evident that there are challenges with the border fence and there is an issue with the movement of people across border. SANDF has either had to escort these people back into Zimbabwe or in some cases into South Africa to buy food before returning back to Zimbabwe.

In addition, the Department of Defence needs to talk about other measures it is currently exploring through the Military Command Council to increase security at the border, such as drones and sensors. It has become clear that the border fence has not worked and most likely, will not work regardless of the quality of fence that is erected. The Department has already started putting up sensors along the inland border with Botswana as an additional measure to compliment the fence and the deployment of military personnel. This is an intervention that would be beneficial along the Zimbabwean and Mozambique borders as they present the most challenges.  The fence at Beitbridge has not helped, it has been vandalized and stolen and the illegal crossing of Zimbabweans has continued. The Minister asked that General Nompetsheni tell Members about the drones and sensors which have been introduced to complement the existing border fence as well as the number of soldiers which have been deployed.

The Chairperson said that what was important was for SANDF to explain how 122 breaches of the border had occurred under their watch despite a strong military presence which had been noted by SCOPA during the oversight visit. Clearly this had been done for the purpose of looking good in front of the Committee. Had the soldiers been at the border under normal circumstances, these breaches would not have occurred.

Mr A Lees (DA) said the challenge with the border fence is well known, there is no denying that there is a problem. What needs to be dealt with in detail are the consequences that should follow because of concerns about the quality and cost of fence. He asked what has happened with the charging of Ms Melissa Whitehead, Advisor to Minister de Lille, which had been recommended by the SIU. Had she been suspended from her duties in the interim? What was the current status of the 11 DPWI officials allegedly involved in the Beitbridge issue?

He asked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula if she thought there would have been no breaches had the fence been constructed according to original specifications and despite the malfeasance that has occurred in the procurement process. Would the fence in any form stop the ingression? The impression given by Minister Mapisa-Nqakula is that this would not have been the case. Besides the malfeasance and corruption that has occurred, the fence is not the primary issue. The main issue is the state of economic collapse in Zimbabwe. He said the Minister’s assertion that drones and sensors would be a useful intervention is naïve. He referenced the Berlin wall which failed to keep people out of Germany because of the gravity of the economic situation. South Africa is now experiencing a similar issue with Zimbabweans entering the border zone who will not be stopped by the fence. The real issue is lack of action by the South African government to put pressure on Zimbabwe to fix the state of its nation.

He expressed surprise that Minister Mapisa-Nqakula had previously said members of SANDF had allowed Zimbabweans to illegally enter South Africa and had escorted them to do their shopping. If this is true, it is a serious indictment and against the law. What action has been taken against the defence force officers involved?

Ms B van Minnen (DA) agreed with Mr Lees that the economic situation is the real push factor in Zimbabwe. Following the oversight visit, it was clear that the fence allows people to enter South Africa at will. She expressed concern that the Minister was falling into the trap of viewing technology as a magic wand. Drones and cameras are only as good as the reaction team that is on the ground and available to respond as needed. Drones and sensors do not make a significant difference unless there is a strong military presence ready to respond. During the visit, SCOPA noticed a number of gates which were open and no attempts were made by the military to close them – this being a basic reaction. Although the military has been deployed along the border, it is not clear what its role is and its function has clearly not been maximized. Any additional money spent on drones or sensors will be wasteful unless there is a rapidly deployable military team.

Mr S Somyo (ANC) agreed that the main interest of the meeting is the fence and if it meets the prescribed standard in the opinion of SANDF who is the primary end-user. During the oversight visit, it was visible that the current fence has moved closer to the South African side and crept into the road used by farmers. The more the parameters shift, the more land the country losses.

Ms V Mente (EFF) said following the President’s proclamation of a state of emergency and need to immediately close borders, Minister Mapisa-Nqakula had engaged with Minister de Lille to strengthen Beitbridge with a new border fence. However, Minister Mapisa-Nqakula was now presenting a new angle promoting the use of technology for better surveillance. If technology was a better solution, why was this not pursued instead of the fence? If DoD is now going to start another process of procuring drones and sensors, this proves the entire project to have been wasteful expenditure. More so because Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said that irrespective of the kind of fence put up, it will not work. Did this mean the Minister has no confidence in the soldiers deployed to the borders? Is there not enough human resource and capacity to address border security? What confidence does the Minister have that technology will be an effective intervention and where has it been implemented successfully? SCOPA cannot allow another situation where money is not well-spent.

The issues of Zimbabweans shopping in South Africa are covered as per the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and Pan-Africanism. Therefore, Ms Mente said, she will not engage in the matter.

She emphasised that the issue of Beitbridge should not be classified as irregular expenditure, it is in fact fruitless and wasteful. In a previous meeting, National Treasury did not give SCOPA any confidence as far as their observations on the procurement process that occurred. Findings show that the bill of quantities (BOQ) reported and commissioned by Minister de Lille and DPWI was inconsistent with what was illustrated in the drawings provided to guide the project. Who did due diligence on the company appointed for project? SCOPA had previously learned that the company appointed was an existing contractor responsible for maintenance and not for border fence construction. The specifications provided by the company were the same as those generally used for enclosing military grounds, not for securing the border. SIU has already established that the fence erected was not according to the specifications.

She asked about the status of the 14 officials implicated. Are they still currently employed? In a previous meeting, the Director-General of DPWI had petitioned for the rights of these officials which is incorrect as his duty is to ensure that they are made accountable, charged and required to pay back the misappropriated funds.  Even the coil fence purchased was 18 km less than what had been provisioned for, 26 km of fence was stretched to cover the 40 km distance which already undermines its effectiveness. A payment was made prior to the submission of paperwork, certificates, and the appointment and approval of the principal agent. No regulations were followed in accordance to the PFMA and National Treasury rules on procurement but payments were nonetheless made. Who then pressed the button to pay these companies? Can we get the money back?  This clearly indicates fruitless and wasteful expenditure. She urged the Auditor General (AG) and National Treasury to take SCOPA through the procurement process and subsequent classification of the expenditure as well as provide recommendations on how to move forward.

Mr Somyo asked if the project had received environmental clearance prior to construction starting. The position of the new fence is glaringly incorrect when compared to the old fence posts. This indicates that it is far from what had been specified. He asked if the purpose of building the fence has been fulfilled? What value has been experienced? He commented on the instruction given by the Minister which initiated the construction. Minister de Lille had directed the DG to give authority over the project to the Deputy Director General (DDG) of Infrastructure. The second area of concern is that the Ministry is expected to monitor the performance of the project and to judge if construction is in line with what was planned. The prescripts in the directive issued are clear and indicate that this is what should have occurred. Did the Ministry receive regular performance updates and, if so, why is the project below the required standard while R21 million was made in payments?

Ms T Marawu (ATM) expressed concern that Minister Mapisa-Nqakula was now proposing the use of technology as an additional security measure when fruitless and wasteful expenditure has already occurred at Beitbridge. Is there evidence that this technology has worked? Is there a budget for this technology? She echoed the remarks of Ms Mente and said National Treasury’s report was incomplete and unconvincing. In a previous meeting, SIU’s report was also incomplete. The SIU had presented new evidence against the Minister which then calls for an in-depth investigation. She urged AG to provide a clear report of their findings.

Mr M Dirks (ANC) said the majority of the issues concerning the fence had been highlighted well by Ms Mente and Mr Somyo. It is clear that everything about the fence is wrong. During the oversight visit, SCOPA had been informed by the Acting-DG, Mr Imtiaz Fazel, that DPWI was in fact meeting on a daily basis and not a weekly basis to discuss progress on the fence. This is clearly inconsistent given the current nature of the fence. He said it was difficult for Members to ask substantive questions because the DDG of Construction Project Management was not present at the visit although he is responsible for the project. SIU should do an investigation starting from the directive that was issued by Minister de Lille in March 2020 initiating the project. The directive was too prescriptive on what should be done and by whom. Under normal circumstances, a directive is given to the DG who then executes it in as far as delegating and tasking people. In this case, the Minister took on this responsibility, a direct interference which undermined the DG leading to lower officials feeling like they were no longer accountable to him. He said SIU needs to investigate whether or not the directive was tantamount in initiating the challenges that followed. Secondly, SIU needs to further investigate Ms Melissa Whitehead and her relationship with Minister de Lille. This relationship dates back to when the Minister was Mayor of Cape Town. It was during this time that previous allegations of misconduct were raised against Ms Whitehead who is now the Minister’s advisor. SCOPA needs to understand what role Ms Whitehead played in the Beitbridge issue which was a blatant misuse of taxpayer funds.

The Chairperson emphasized that National Treasury’s absence and lack of cooperation have been unacceptable to say the least. He called for an interaction with them to understand their resistance in addressing the matter. SCOPA had previously given Treasury 14 days to provide a report on the merits of the Ministerial directive, this was in June and they have since not done so despite continuous appeals from the Committee. This conduct shows that National Treasury is not taking the process seriously, yet they play an integral part in reaching a conclusion. National Treasury continues to undermine SCOPA and has displayed the same behaviour before. He asked SIU to speak on the cooperation of SANDF in the process of the investigations.

Response from Minister of Defence

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said she was completely caught by surprise by the range of issues brought up by Members because DoD was not responsible for the construction of the fence. However, it was important to expand on what DoD had been doing. She said she feels ridiculed by the questions surrounding the use of drones and sensors as these are only intended to act as force multipliers. The reality of the challenges show that we cannot rely solely on military personnel because of the span of the borderline. There need to be additional measures to maximise on resources to secure the border. At the end of the day it does not matter how much money is given to SANDF to deploy soldiers, there needs to be a fence and additional technology. 

She said she was glad that Ms Mente had mentioned the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and Pan-Africanism regarding military officers escorting Zimbabweans who had crossed illegally to do their shopping in South Africa before accompanying them back to Zimbabwe. The Minister has chaired numerous meetings at the Military Command Council where a video was circulated showing soldiers escorting people to the shops during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Her initial response had been to question why this had been allowed rather than arresting these individuals. However, she was told that the people living along both sides of the border are the poorest and most vulnerable and have no access to basic services like clinics or shops to buy bread and milk. The soldiers deployed understand the circumstances in these communities and the difficulties caused by COVID-19 lockdown. The Minister of Home Affairs had also pointed out that the pandemic had revealed some critical challenges. Some Zimbabweans along the border even receive chronic medication from South African clinics. They are forced to cross the border whether legally or not. The soldiers found that the least they could do was to allow for these individuals to access the goods and services they needed in South Africa before escorting them back to Zimbabwe. The Minister had asked the soldiers how they facilitated this given the fact that the border was closed and only allowed those transporting cargo to enter. The soldiers said they had no choice but to negotiate on behalf of the Zimbabweans. After hearing about the extreme poverty and circumstances, the Minister decided not to interrogate the matter further. She said any humane person would have done the same.

Government needs to address the issue of undocumented migrants doing business in South Africa. Migrants should be allowed to enter the country and be documented; however, this should not come at the expense of South Africans.   

The immigration challenges being faced are happening at a time when the President has already signed a Border Management Authority. This will be the pinnacle of how border management issues are addressed in a coordinated manner across relevant stakeholders. The Minister asked SCOPA to provide written questions concerning the Beitbridge fence so they can be shared with Joint Operations in order to have more substantive discussion. In reality the issue of the fence belongs elsewhere, however, DoD can elaborate on the role it has played in securing the border.

The Chairperson agreed to furnish the Department with the questions, however, in his view there were some non-technical questions that the Minister could address herself during the meeting.

Response from Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure and DPWI

Minister de Lille thanked the Committee for the oversight visit it had undertaken and the feedback it had given. DPWI will oblige and provide any additional responses in writing should SCOPA require this while finalising the report.  The Minister said she was happy that the AG, SIU and PICC were present because the issue requires a joint effort in order to reach a logical conclusion. She agreed that the fence is not fit for purpose and thanked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula for providing additional security during construction to prevent further vandalism and theft of the fence.

On 23 July, the President made a proclamation to investigate all COVID-19 related procurement, including the Beitbridge project. The SIU is expected to report to the President on its findings. The first report on the matter was produced by DPWI and underwent quality control by the SIU, this has since been submitted to SCOPA for consideration. The same report was also submitted to the AG who is performing an active audit. DPWI is now awaiting an additional report by the SIU following the President’s proclamation. This will likely include an investigation into the initial directive issued by the Minister in March 2020 which initiated the construction of the fence.   

In terms of consequence management, Adv Sam Vukela, Director-General and the Ministerial Advisor, Ms Melissa Whitehead, require separate disciplinary processes from the other implicated officials because these two persons are employed under section 12 and 12A, not section 8 of the Public Service Act 1994. The consideration on how to address allegations against the DG lies with the President. Where Ms Whitehead is concerned, the Department has referred this matter to the Office of the State Attorney to draft the charges, appoint the initiator and appoint the chairperson. This is currently underway, and the Minister is awaiting a response.

The Minister said the response to the R21 million which has already been paid to the contractor is included in the report. No further payments have been made to Magwa Construction and Profteam CC following the initiation of the investigation on 25 April 2020.

Prior to starting the project, DPWI had to get specifications of the fence from SANDF as they are the primary end user. On 17 March 2020, the Department had a joint meeting with a delegation from SANDF. The request was to replace and repair the existing fence. DPWI will provide a copy of the minutes to this meeting if necessary. DPWI committed itself to providing any additional information needed to conclude the matter.  

Mr Imtiaz Fazel, Acting Director-General, DPWI, clarified that there were 15 charges relating to 13 officials who had been implicated in the Beitbridge project. This is because two individuals were charged on separate accounts. The DG and Ministerial Advisor are included in this group of officials. All individuals had been charged and had until Tuesday, 13th October 2020 to make representation before the disciplinary process proceeds.

DPWI has communicated with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the fence is non-compliant with environmental laws. DPWI has asked DEA for assistance on how to achieve compliance because the current location of the fence is not according to the site clearance certificate that was issued.

The Department’s report concluded that the border fence was a fruitless exercise given that it was not fit for purpose, the BOQ was not the same as the drawings and the procurement process was not compliant with National Treasury regulations and Section 217 of the Constitution.  The entire process was both irregular and fruitless.

Magwa Construction and Profteam CC were appointed through a negotiated process meaning they were approached and selected without a competitive bidding process. Documents were submitted to the National Bid Adjudication Committee after the award was made. Two other companies had been invited to a meeting and were given the impression that they were part of a competitive bidding process, however, they were then ignored by DPWI. The Department had an opportunity to enter a competitive bidding process but had failed to do so and appointed the two companies instead. Subsequently, the procurement process was not aligned with Departmental and Treasury prescripts, lead to pricing three times the market value. Charges have been laid against the involved officials.

Mr Fazel said the Department acknowledges that the final product of the specifications talks more to the kind of fence used within the premises of the border rather than a security border fence. These have also led to the lack of fit of purpose of the fence. Comments had been made that the fence had been stretched from 26km to cover 40km making it easier to breach- this conclusion was wrong. However, charges have been laid against the individuals responsible for the technical implementation.

The report found that payments were made upfront to Magwa Construction and Profteam CC prior to any material being delivered on site and any general progress being made. The principal agent, contractors and two DPWI staff members were involved in this payment process and have had criminal charges laid against them.

Response from Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission

Mr Tshepo Cheune, a technical expert from the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC), said the PICC had done a documentation review and site inspection to finalise their report. Based on the site visit, the PICC concluded that alterations had been made to what was specified and what was found on the ground. The final project design called for a fence 2.2 m high but the actual height of the fence at Beitbridge reached no more than 1.8 m. It is not unusual for project specifications to change, however, what was unusual was the lack of consultation with DPWI and the project implementation team. Additionally, certain materials were not used during construction but the BOQ and total cost of the project remained the same. Mr Cheune confirmed that at some points the razor wire had been stretched beyond its limits which compromised its efficacy.

Response from Special Investigations Unit

Adv Andy Mothibi, Head of SIU, said the agency is currently pursuing civil litigation to recover the money paid to the service provider and any other related damages caused to the Department. This process is underway, and the case of the Special Tribunal was on the roll for 8 October 2020. At this point the application is to get a restraint order that freezes the accounts of the service providers. Following this, the SIU will address the recovery of the R21 million which has been paid.

SIU has referred four criminal matters to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) relating to the service providers and DPWI officials. The agency will continue to work in conjunction with the NPA to ensure prosecution, conviction and sentencing so that full consequence management is exercised. He was glad to hear that disciplinary process is underway for the DG and the Minister’s Advisor.

The SIU investigation concluded that the fence does not meet prescribed requirements and is not fit for purpose. This will be considered to motivate legal charges and to ensure that the money will be recovered. The SIU is committed to pursuing all involved parties to make sure this happens.

During a previous meeting, National Treasury had committed to investigating the directive. SIU will also engage with Treasury to find out how far they are in this process and to make sure the point is covered appropriately.

Adv Mothibi reported that the investigating team had requested a meeting with Major Makhubela who cooperated and met with the team. However, he was not comfortable answering to some questions which had legal implications.

It appears that there was overall poor project management of the Beitbridge border fence construction. This is an additional area that SIU will interrogate as PICC has already indicated that there was lack of consultation between DPWI, the project team and those who were on site. This raises concerns.

Any outstanding matters such as the conclusion on the directive and any other additional issues will be covered and presented in a report under the proclamation issued by the President.

Follow-up questions

Mr Lees said the Minister of Defence had made a huge statement on the failure of the Zimbabwean state by saying it cannot even ensure that its people have a loaf of bread to eat. This is the essence of the current challenges and should be the emphasis of government. It also appears as if the Minister is okay with allowing Zimbabweans to enter the country illegally and to be escorted by military personnel who have been deployed to secure the border rather than using the official border post. Although the issues surrounding poverty are true, there are legal means of entering the country, there is therefore no excuse for the military to allow illegal crossings. What happens to the work of the military while they accompany Zimbabweans who have entered the country illegally? These illegal entrants obtain medication at the expense of the South African taxpayer.  He said he had strong doubts that the military actually escorts the illegal entrants from each shop and clinic and finally accompanies them back to Zimbabwe once they have completed their errands. Ultimately, this means that if one does not have legal means to enter South Africa, all they have to do is state that they are a poor Zimbabwean in need of shopping and they will be granted entry by the military. Unless, the Minister has put a system in place to monitor the movement of these illegal entrants, it is unlikely that the military is able to have full surveillance. Instead of doing the job she has been charged with, Minister Mapisa-Nqakula is enabling the military to break the law. This reaction is astounding but should not be surprising because the Minister recently took ANC colleagues to Zimbabwe on a jet using taxpayer funds. This is an indication of the Minister’s unsuitability to hold the position she does. He requested that SCOPA includes recommendations in its report regarding this matter.

Ms Van Minnen said she agrees with Mr Lees. The directive that was issued on 16th March 2020 was to safeguard South Africa’s borders, Beitbridge being one of the busiest. Is Minister Mapisa-Nqakula saying that despite this instruction, she is comfortable allowing illegal border crossings which clearly contradict the emergency directive given by the President? If this is the case and the Minister is okay with facilitating illegal border crossings at a critical time when thousands have died of COVID-19, this is a serious matter and should be included in SCOPA’s report.

Ms Mente reminded Members that the primary concern of the meeting is dealing with the Beitbridge project and how to prevent corruption and the misuse of funds under the guise of safeguarding the border when there is no need. There will be another day to deal directly with the overarching issues of borders.

She was happy that the Acting DG is agreeing with SCOPA and that charges have been laid. However, the tendency in South African politics is to pretend to be enforcing consequence management that never reaches a logical conclusion. It is crucial for SCOPA to plan and pave a way forward on how to appropriately deal with this matter. Adv Mothibi has indicated the progress that has been made thus far but SCOPA needs detailed information on the type of charges that have been laid against each official, how much money they expect to get back from the civil litigation and when they are expected to appear in court. NPA must also give a report on the criminal charges and when persecution will happen. DPWI must provide the names of the implicated officials. Treasury must provide a conclusive report on the determination of the expenditure. The charges must include the pricing of professional fees which were costed at 8.7% instead of the expected 0.7%. Treasury should guide SCOPA on the pricing formulas in this regard. She hopes that this current quarter of Parliament will not end without getting rid of the implicated officials.

She advised Minister Mapisa-Nqakula not to be defensive because the Committee understands that DoD is not responsible for the procurement of the fence, but they can provide insight on whether or not the fence is serving its purpose. DoD has in the past provided benchmarks for border fences; therefore, the Minister should be able to indicate if she and the Department are satisfied with the quality of the fence.

Issues of Pan-Africanism and SADC agreements will be addressed in another Portfolio Committee; however, our consciousness is informed by values of ubuntu. Ms Mente said that one cannot separate Zimbabwe’s issues from South Africa’s and until South Africa does something, these issues will persist. The country cannot stand by and watch as fellow Africans are suffering.

Mr Dirks said his view differed from Mr Lees and Ms Van Minnen’s on the issue of allowing Zimbabweans to enter the country illegally. SCOPA should in fact commend the General and SANDF for being accommodating and not acting as security guards when they see fellow Africans suffering.  This issue happened at a time when borders were closed and no one could enter SA legally. SANDF saw a crisis and demonstrated good leadership by allowing Zimbabweans to enter the country and escorting them to get basic necessities rather than allowing them to suffer.

Mr Somyo echoed Ms Mente and urged DoD to provide written responses on their judgement of the quality and appropriateness of the fence as the end user. He is happy that Minister de Lille has already said that she is not satisfied with the quality of the fence.

He is happy to discuss any additional border security matters with the Portfolio Committee of Defence. He agreed with Ms Mente and Mr Dirks that some of the issues on the Beitbridge border are ethical in nature. It would be a gross mistake if the military did not assist those who are visibly in need rather than being carriers of guns.

The argument of DPWI is that the appointed service provider was already an existing contractor used by the Department at Beitbridge. However, their initial responsibility was to perform routine maintenance and repairs not the construction of a border fence. Therefore, it is not surprising that the company used existing material that was lying around the premises. How long has the company been a service provider for DPWI?

The Acting DG indicated that the Department of Environment Affairs has concluded that the fence is non-compliant with environmental standards. What has DPWI’s response been to this conclusion?

The Chairperson said a fundamental discussion has come up concerning the bilateral relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe. While this is a worthy topic, SCOPA should not lose focus of the primary topic which is the border fence which is not fit for purpose and was wasteful and fruitless in terms of expenditure. Minister Mapisa-Nqakula was set to appear before the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans in the following weeks where some of the overarching border issues with Zimbabwe will be discussed. What is apparent is there has been a collapse of diplomatic relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe in so far as the current humanitarian crisis is concerned. However, whatever interventions are made should be compliant with South Africa’s regulations on the movement of people across borders. The fence that has been put up is intended to ensure the legal movement of people and that is currently not happening given the 122 breaches that have been observed despite a strong military presence. The new fence compliments an older fence constructed in 1984—this appears to be in better condition than the most recent fence. These factors illustrate that there are serious challenges with South Africa’s border management. The Department of Home Affairs will also have to account for why it allowed SANDF to take on humanitarian decisions which fall outside of their mandate which is to ensure the deportation of any illegal entrants.  Whatever humanitarian interventions are taken must still be in line with the law. SCOPA is concerned about the financial implications of the decision made by the Minister and SANDF. What does this mean for the fiscus and the collection of taxes and duties when people are allowed to move freely illegally? What is the impact on the South African health sector, which bears the cost of illegal entrants receiving medical attention in the country? Such decisions cannot be made on an ad hoc basis and need serious consideration.  Minister Mapisa-Nqakula will have to account for the situation she has presented.

SCOPA will make recommendations to DPWI about presenting reports on the disciplinary process. There is no dispute that corruption has happened, the fence is not fit for purpose and fruitless and wasteful expenditure has occurred. Therefore, SCOPA expects that consequence management will be commensurate to the malfeasance that has happened. If the conclusion fails to meet this standard, it will clearly indicate that the entire process has been flawed.

The Chairperson asked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula if she believed the fence was necessary to begin with. Did DPWI consult DoD about the need for a new fence? In order for Minister de Lille to issue the directive to construct the fence there would have had to have been an inter-ministerial consultation with DoD as they hold the primary mandate of securing borders. That is the fundamental reason why SCOPA is insistent on understanding the role of DoD in the construction of the fence.

National Treasury’s lack of cooperation is essentially a dereliction of its duty.

Brig Gen Nompetsheni interjected and asked for an opportunity to explain some of the operational issues of SANDF.

The Chairperson refused to give Brig Gen l Nompetsheni an opportunity because he had failed to engage with SCOPA in the manner that was expected at the beginning of the meeting. Subsequently, Minister Mapisa-Nqakula had requested to address the Members’ questions in writing. If the Minister finds it fit to allow members of her delegation to make any further contributions, she will be the one to determine that.

The issue of the fence is apparent however new challenges have come up which illustrates that there are serious challenges with border management in general.

Response from Minister of Defence

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said she was happy that some of her responses to the questions posed by Members require a collaborative response with other Committees and stakeholders. This was particularly important to make sure that all parties are on the same page on overall issues of border management and relations with Zimbabwe.

She thanked the Chairperson for protecting her by not insisting on discussing the issue of the jet that was recently used for a trip to Zimbabwe. The Minister will be happy to provide the details of what happened if called by the Committee. So far, she has been silent on this matter until she is given the opportunity to answer to either Parliament or the Public Protector. Although Mr Lees has the right to hold a view on her fitness to hold office, this meeting was not the necessary time to discuss the matter and get personal in the manner that he did. The purpose of the Minister’s trip was to discuss the impact of Zimbabwe’s instability on issues of national security and was in no way recreational. South Africa has no choice but to intervene and engage with its neighbouring countries as their challenges have direct implications for the country. Once she has been provided an opportunity to present her points, Mr Lees can go ahead and push for his motion rather than doing so in an opportunistic manner.

It is a pity that Brig Gen Nompetsheni did not present the historical issues of the fence. DoD had already contemplated the need to put up a new fence a few years ago, the only discussion was what kind of fence should be put up. If SCOPA wants Joint Operations to present on this matter, the Minister will oblige.

When the state of emergency was announced and directives were given to close borders, DoD had a discussion on the importance of securing the borders to ensure that the spread of coronavirus is contained. Minister de Lille can attest that DPWI had decided that they will put up a fence at Beitbridge due to the fear of the spread of the virus. However, there was no discussion or agreement with DoD. The Minister has taken note of SIU’s mention of Major Makhubela who is presumably part of the Joint Operations. Although SIU pointed out that he cooperated by agreeing to a meeting, he expressed legal reservations about speaking further. The Minister will request a report from Major Makhubela through Brig Gen Nompetsheni.

The Chairperson clarified that Major Makhubela had appeared in a previous meeting held on 17 March 2020 but could not proceed with providing responses to SIU as he was not mandated to do so by his superiors. The Minister needs to then ascertain who instructed Major Makhubela not to answer to SIU.

The Minister of Defence asked Brig Gen Nompetsheni if he has any information regarding Major Makhubela.

Brig Gen Nompetsheni responded that he did not have any information but would make a follow-up to ensure the Minister receives details.

The Minister asked the General what role Major Makhubela was playing. Was he working with DPWI in the construction of the fence?

Brig Gen Nompetsheni said he did not want to put the Minister on the spot and would consult with his colleagues to determine what role the Major had played as a company Commander in the area.

The Chairperson said he did not understand how this puts the Minister on the spot, in fact this puts

Brig Gen Nompetsheni on the spot because Major Makhubela answers directly to the General.

The General said he will make a follow-up and provide a written response.

The Minister said she will follow up on this matter because there is a forum through which Majors have to account to their superiors regardless of where they are deployed. In this case, Brig Gen Nompetsheni is a senior officer and should be a member of this forum. Therefore, he should be in a position to provide answers.

The Minister of Defence said she had posed the same questions Members have concerning the illegal crossing of Zimbabweans and the military accompanying these individuals to run errands. She had asked how this was facilitated. SANDF had arranged transport for the Zimbabweans to be brought to the border and returned back. The Minister admitted that she was annoyed when she saw the footage of what was happening, the clarity that she received was that the situation at the border was dire. A General said the sooner that South Africa is able to engage diplomatically with Zimbabwe, the better because of the gravity of the economic conditions in Zimbabwe. It is good that SCOPA is now aware of some of the overarching issues along the border and DoD is happy to return to discuss these in detail.

Response from Minister de Lille

Minister de Lille said it is important for the public to hold officials accountable. The more this is done, the better DPWI will perform. The Ministry is committed to the work in progress concerning the Beitbridge border fence and will work together with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the report is concluded.  DPWI is committed to providing regular progress reports on the disciplinary process as well as written responses to any other outstanding questions that SCOPA may have in order to finalise its own report.

Closing remarks

The Chairperson indicated that the issues discussed will help SCOPA conclude its report and are of importance. What cannot be disputed is that corruption occurred at Beitbridge and [that the process] failed to deliver a product that is fit for purpose. The 122 breaches are an indictment and indicate that there are additional challenges concerning SANDF’s ability to ensure that the border is secured.

SCOPA is aware that the contract entered by DPWI and the service providers did not include a maintenance clause. The entire issue is wrought with different procedural flaws.

SCOPA recommends that DPWI provide a framework of how the disciplinary process is set to unfold. It should fast-track the process so it can reach a logical conclusion. DoD has questions that it needs to answer, it particularly needs to make sure that Major Makhubela appears before SIU.

The Chairperson requested that Members provide any outstanding questions to the Committee Secretariat and that DPWI and DoD provide responses by Monday, 12 October 2020 to ensure that SCOPA’s report is finalised and submitted to the House within the next 14 days.

The meeting was adjourned.


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