The Joint Standing Committee (JSC) invited both the Department of Defence (DOD) and the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) to brief it on the forensic audit report on the 1 Military Hospital Refurbishment, the upgrading of section headquarter buildings for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), as well as the borderline fences.
The Committee expressed its disappointment regarding the DOD’s failure to account on the delayed 1 Military Hospital RAMP. Members indicated that it was unacceptable for the Department to come unprepared to the meeting, particularly as it had been made aware of the agenda prior to the Committee finalising the terms of its fourth term programme. In their response, officials from the Department indicated that it wrote to the Chairpersons of the JSC, indicating that the report had not been presented to internal structures. Therefore, it suggested that the meeting be postponed until the report is processed by the department. Despite this, the Committee was pleased that the DPWI, having received the report in September 2021, had already initiated proceedings against the senior officials responsible for the irregularities in the RAMP.
Officials from the Department indicated that the project was intended to solely be a RAMP, which would be completed in 2009. However, due to scope changes requested by the DOD, the project was converted to an upgrading project and its completion was delayed. Due to various scope changes by the DOD, it was decided that a new project be registered. The revised project began on 27 August 2020 and would be concluded by 27 August 2023. Members were not pleased by the fact that between 2012 and 2016, over R1 billion was spent by the DOD on the project. They insisted that the new timeframes for the conclusion of the project should be respected, so as to avoid an increase in costs but, more importantly, to ensure that SANDF members are provided high quality medical care.
The Committee questioned the DPWI’s decision to devolve the project to the DOD in 2014, as Section 97 of the Constitution states that only the President of the country can remove a function from one department and transfer it to another. The Minister of the DPWI, Ms Patricia De Lille, indicated that in this case, neither department requested authorisation from the President. She described the decision as an illegal act.
Regarding the long-term solution for the borderline fence, the Committee supported a collaborative approach between all relevant stakeholders in ensuring that the country has a safe and secure borderline
Opening remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson asked how the Department of Defence (DOD) planned to address the cross-border car theft syndicates operating in towns near the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) border with Mozambique, as there have been allegations of hijacking of motor vehicles by members of these syndicates, at gunpoint. In the previous week, the Committee met with stakeholders in the vehicle tracking industry, who provided adequate suggestions on how to deal with this matter.
Mr S Marais (DA) asked whether the DOD would present its forensic report on the 1 Military Hospital RAMP, as indicated by the agenda. He added that the Committee could not proceed only with the presentation from the DPWI, particularly as the forensic report had been part of its planning and programming for some time.
Committee meeting agenda
The Chairperson took the Committee through the agenda for the meeting.
The Committee Secretary recorded the apologies of the Minister of the DOD and the Secretary of Defence, both of whom are currently accompanying the President on a state visit in West Africa.
Opening remarks by the Minister
The Minister of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), Patricia De Lille, indicated that the department would brief the Committee on the RAMP and the status of the country’s borderline fences. She mentioned that after making enquiries to the DOD, she was informed that the Department received the forensic report in September 2021. She had received the report two days earlier. After analysing the report, the Department requested further information from the DOD and a modified report was returned to the DPWI November 2021.
Prior to the meeting, she inquired at the Department whether the report had been shared with the Committee, however, it was established that it had not been sent to Members. She raised her concerns regarding this, as the report would need to be addressed by both departments.
The Chairperson requested that the officials of the DOD clarify whether they had the report on hand.
The Acting Secretary for Defence, Dr Thobekile Gamede, said that the Department wrote to the Chairpersons of the JSC, indicating that the report had not been presented to internal structures, therefore, it suggested that the meeting be postponed until the Secretary for Defence returns and the report is processed by the Department.
The Chairperson asked when the forensic investigation was commissioned and by whom. He also asked when the department received the report and what its current status is.
Dr Gamede said that it was commissioned by the department and it was currently with the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the SANDF. Once the report is processed by the Department, the Minister of the DOD will have to be briefed.
The Chairperson mentioned that the department had not answered when the report was commissioned and by whom.
Dr Gamede said that she cannot provide the exact date as her line function is outside of this mandate. However, she could confirm that the report was commissioned by the Department.
The Chairperson indicated that the department was made aware of the meeting and the agenda weeks beforehand and as the Acting Secretary of Defence, she should have familiarised herself with the information.
Dr Gamede admitted that she had not confirmed with the department officials when the report was commissioned.
The Chairperson asked if the Department could get information on when it was commissioned, when it was finalised, whether it was submitted to the Department that commissioned it and what the current status of the report is. He requested that the Department obtain this information during the meeting.
Mr Marais said that the Department’s conduct was an embarrassment and is becoming the norm, with the Committee encountering a similar issue on the previous day. Both the Secretary of Defence and the Minister had been made aware of the agenda before the Committee finalised the terms of its fourth term programme.
He asked how the report was provided to the DPWI if it had not gone through the DOD’s required internal processes. This was an illustration of the DOD’s poor planning and management. He stated that the Department had not been honest with the Committee. He further described the Department’s actions as unacceptable and added that it should not display such poor conduct. He recommended that the Committee write a strongly-worded letter to both the Minister and the Secretary for Defence, to inform them not to treat the Committee in the manner that they had.
The Chairperson requested that the Committee researcher take the Committee through the engagement it had regarding the forensic report.
Military hospital refurbishment: parliamentary engagement on the forensic report
Committee Researcher, Dr Wilhelm Janse van Rensberg, took the Committee through the parliamentary engagements on 1 Military Hospital and key questions posed on the forensic report.
The Chairperson asked if the Department was ready to provide the information requested by the Committee earlier in the meeting.
Dr Gamede mentioned that the Department was struggling to obtain the information.
Minister De Lille clarified that the report was provided by the forensic investigation unit to the DOD by 1 December 2020.
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) supported Mr Marais’ comments, adding that the Committee would not be executing its duties if it allowed the DOD’s misconduct to persist (as it is a long standing issue). He described the Department’s action as beyond embarrassing and required that the Committee take drastic action.
Mr T Mafanya (EFF) supported the previous speakers’ sentiments. He also described the Department’s conduct as embarrassing and unacceptable, also indicating that this had become commonplace. He requested that the Committee develop a new strategy to deal with the Department, as it is failing to fulfil its mandate, due to the Department’s actions.
Ms A Beukes (ANC) said that it was unacceptable that the Department appeared before the Committee unprepared, even though it had received the programme well in advance. She also suggested that the Committee take action against the Department, particularly as Members had referred to its poor communication.
The Chairperson mentioned that the Committee would return to the matter after the DPWI’s briefing.
Minister De Lille introduced the officials who would brief the Committee.
Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG) of Intergovernmental relations in the DPWI, Mr Adam Mthombeni, said that the Department was requested to deal with three areas but, as Section A had already been covered, the officials would only focus on Sections B and C.
The Chairperson indicated he was unsure as to who had informed the Department that the Committee had already been briefed on Section A. As such, he requested that the officials also include Section A in its briefing.
Mr Mthombeni clarified that the officials would only articulate the Department's stance on the RAMP and the border infrastructure.
Presentation by the DPWI on the RAMP and the country’s border infrastructure
Director Strategy and Operations: Property Management at the DPWI, Mr Heins Worst, and the DDG: Real Estate Investment Services at the DPWI, Ms Sasa Subban, briefed the Committee on the RAMP and the country’s border infrastructure.
Mr Worst explained that, originally, the project was intended to solely be a RAMP, which would be completed in 2009. However, due to scope changes requested by the DOD, the project was converted to an upgrading project and its completion was delayed. Due to various scope changes by the DOD, it was decided that a new project be registered. During the planning phase for the new project, on request of the DOD, the project was transferred by the DPWI to the DOD on October 23, 2014. The DPWI had implemented a total facilities management contract at 1 Military Hospital for a period of 36 months, for the maintenance of hard services. He added that the project began on 27 August 2020 and should be concluded on 27 August 2023.
Due to the various issues in the project, the DOD instituted a forensic investigation. The report, which the DPWI received in September 2021, implicates senior officials from both the DOD and the DPWI. For implicated DPWI officials, the Department has now been subjected to the internal disciplinary processes.
Ms Subban informed the Committee that to encapsulate the relevant mandates and to execute the respective roles and responsibilities within the borderlines, the DPWI together with the DOD is concluding a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The MOU ensures that the Integrated Borderline solution is developed for implementation as part of the medium to long term. Site clearing has already begun in the borderline, with 1 800km of 3 000km borderline having been cleared so far.
Minister De Lille, regarding the borderline fence, mentioned that the Department had completed a Request for Information (RFI) and has submitted the options available on the market to the DOD. Once the Department has received the DOD’s preferred options, it will package the project as a bankable project, after which it will then start the process of gazetting the borderline fencing project as a strategic infrastructure project. This will ensure that the project qualifies for a shortened procurement process, as outlined by the Infrastructure Development Act of 2014. So far, the DPWI has cleared 1 800km of the 3 000km borderline. She insisted that lack of adequate border fencing across the country is a crisis which requires urgent attention. The Department has appealed to the DOD to approve the specifications so that the Department can begin the process as soon as possible.
Referring to the RAMP project, she said that the non-functionality of the first floor of the hospital (due to the construction work) has had a negative financial impact on the DOD, as the project costs had increased since 2011 and due to the DOD having to outsource medical services that cannot be delivered by 1 Military Hospital. She added that between 2012 and 2016, the DOD had spent over R1 billion on the project. She asked for the Committee to provide the Department with support in finding long-lasting solutions to the issues faced in the project.
The Chairperson asked that the Department address the Jersey Barrier Wall.
Minister De Lille said the department was not requested to prepare a presentation on the Jersey Barriers but it can do so in the following week.
The Chairperson asked which Portfolio Committee Ms Samantha Graham [present on the Zoom platform] belonged to.
Mr Marais indicated that she is a Member of the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure.
The Chairperson opened the floor for discussion.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) asked if the DOD was supposed to provide the DPWI with specifications for implementation and not the other way round.
Regarding RAMP, he mentioned that he was not convinced by the DPWI’s explanation for the failure of the project. There are other reported instances where service providers appointed by the DPWI do not meet the project timelines and the project incurs overruns, like the 2 Military Hospital project. Following this, he asked what the reasons were for the DPWI not implementing its projects timeously and in a cost-effective manner.
Mr Marais said it was mentioned that from 2014 onward, the DPWI would continue the capital work of the 1 Military Hospital, whilst the renovations of the first floor in the hospital would be the responsibility of the DOD. Additionally, it was mentioned that the project would be extended until 2023. Considering this, he asked for the Department to provide an indication of the project cost.
He asked whether the DPWI had begun the process of approaching state attorneys, as the forensic report implicates senior officials in the DPWI and DOD. Further, he asked that the DOD provide the Committee with a report based on the information presented by the DPWI in the meeting.
Regarding slide 10, he asked whether the expressions provided on the slide were factual or only assumptions; as this information would assist the Committee in what action it should take against the DOD.
He highlighted that the Committee has been led to understand that the DOD will act as an implementing agent, providing manpower to secure the borderline; whereas, during its presentation, the DPWI indicated that the DOD is the end-user in the Border Management Authority (BMA), only determining the specifications of what must be done. He asked that the DPWI clarify what the DOD’s role was in the BMA.
He asked what the criteria of the border fence was, what its characteristics were and what its purpose was. He described the Beitbridge Border Post borderline fence erected in 2020 as a total failure, which cannot keep people outside the country. He insisted that adequate border fences be erected.
Referring to slide 14, he asked how the Departments planned to build the borderline fence across the Kruger National Park (KNP), as both Mpumalanga and Limpopo border each other.
Mr Ryder said that he was not convinced that there was a way forward on achieving a complete and usable hospital. He asked for a detailed plan, with landmarks and goals; and that the DOD provides a timeframe on the completion of the project. Through the completion of this project, the DOD must ensure that it fulfills its mandate of securing the wellbeing of SANDF members.
He said that the Committee requires a response on what went wrong in the project and, to obtain this information, it may have to request that the Speaker and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) intervene. He suggested that the Committee consider instituting an investigation into the project, alongside the Department’s forensic investigation.
He asked what the DOD’s plan was to stop the smuggling occurring near the Mozambican border. He suggested that a barricade or an alarm be placed on the erected borderline fence and that there should be monitoring of this fence.
The Chairperson, referring to Ms Graham, mentioned that he did not want to conflate the issues of the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and the JSC on Defence, and indicated that he would not allow for her to pose questions.
Mr Marais indicated that as a Member of Parliament, she could pose questions.
Mr Mafanya said that in the previous encounter with the DOD, challenges surrounding the projects were discussed. During that meeting, the Department criticised the quality of work by service providers appointed by the DPWI. The Department also indicated that the projects could be completed for less money. He asked what the terms of reference were in the MOU between the DPWI and the DOD regarding projects.
Minister De Lille mentioned that government was reconfigured in 2019, where the DPWI was established and gazetted by the President. The mandate of the Department is linked to the Infrastructure Development Act of 2014, as well as the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Council.
She informed Members that there was an agreement between her and the previous DOD Minister, that the DPWI would issue an RFI to assess what solutions were available in the market. Together with the then-Minister, the DPWI drafted the RFI, which was then published. Part of the agreement was that the DPWI will gather and collate all the information related to the border fence project, then it would present the various options to the DOD. However, the mandate to provide and procure the infrastructure remains with the DPWI, while the DOD will have to sign-off on the specifications of what kind of border fence would assist it in complementing its constitutional work to protect the country’s borders. She clarified that the report was available and can be presented to the Committee at a later stage.
She added that the DPWI has briefed the new Minister of the DOD on issues related to infrastructure.
The DOD wrote to the DPWI two years ago, indicating that it wanted to take over the DPWI’s mandate of providing infrastructure, conducting repairs and maintenance. She indicated that her Department referred the DOD to Section 97 of the Constitution, which states that only the President of the country can remove a function from one Department and transfer it to another; thus, the Department recommended that the DOD write to the President to take over the function. The DPWI is sitting with a similar issue from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), where in terms of the BMA Act, the role and function of the DHA is to coordinate border infrastructure but the Department now wants to also conduct its own infrastructure, and the DPWI gave it the same advice. This and the DOD’s projects were some of the issues on the agenda between her and the new Minister of DOD.
On the question on the plan going forward, she said that both departments would be responsible for the border fence project. She explained that the DOD will select one of the options the DPWI puts before them and as there was no money in the fiscus, it would, with the assistance of Infrastructure South Africa (ISA), package the proposal into a strategic infrastructure project. Once this was done, it would gazette the project; thereafter it would seek funding from the market, to ensure that all 3 000km of the country’s borderline is fenced.
Deputy Director: Facilities at the DPWI, Ms Nishi Sharma, on the amount of the total stability management contract (TSM), clarified that R188 million has been spent for the duration of the TSM for 1 Military Hospital. The contract was only in place for preventative and reactive maintenance of the facility, which includes mechanical, electrical as well as building works.
DDG: Property Management at the DPWI, Mr Henry Isaacs, indicated that the authority-seeking correspondence has been prepared by the Department, for the authorisation by the Acting Director-General the following day. Whereafter the briefing notes will be provided by the Department’s legal services. It is anticipated that the process will be finalised with the appointment of the presiding officer as well as the initiator by 8 December 2021.
DDG: Construction Management Services at the DPWI, Mr Batho Mokhothu, said the Department had discussed a number of construction projects with the DOD, such as the 2 Military Hospital project and the upgrading of SANDF headquarters, both of which had been delayed. Whilst the 2 Military Hospital project has been completed, the Department was still awaiting the total facilities management. The project was delayed by the fact that a phased approach was taken when implementing the project, as the building still needed to be used during the construction phase; and the contractor faced certain challenges on site.
Regarding the renovation of the SANDF headquarters, he mentioned that this project included the repair and renovation of nine power substations along the border with Mozambique. The sketch design plans had been approved for the project and the Department was awaiting direction from DOD regarding funding.
He added that the Department was also working on a number of initiatives to deliver on the performance of infrastructure delivered and it would provide a report on some of its improvement plans to the Committee.
Ms Subban clarified that the Department had not received the specifications from the DOD on the border fence. This is a critical requirement as it impacts on the security of the country. The DPWI had tried to assist the DOD on an administrative (the DOD forms part of the DPWI’s Evaluation and Specification Committee) and Ministerial level, regarding this.
She said that the Department, through town planning and the RFI process, looked for best practice borderline solutions. One of the examples of best practice borderline solutions does include a fence. Another example was Informations and Communications Technology (ICT) solutions. If required, the Department would be able to brief the Committee on the options available.
Referring to the question on the KNP borderline, she indicated that an agricultural fence would have to be placed around the park. She also explained that due to human rights legislation, the Department cannot erect electrified fences. As a result, it is looking towards ICT solutions, which rely on surveillance. This function would be controlled by the DOD so that they can react accordingly.
On the MOU, she mentioned that it is specific to the borderline solution. If it was converted to the protocol agreement, then it would also align to that.
Regarding the way forward, she said that the development of a service level agreement between the DOD and the DPWI was underway. This agreement will touch on the general relationship and services provided to DOD, by the DPWI; and it will be supported by the service delivery standards that outline the services the DPWI provides, with the associated timelines.
Mr Mokhuthu mentioned that the report provided earlier gives a review over the RAMP project, in particular the forensic investigation.
Explaining the intention of the RAMP, he stated that it was initially executed by the DPWI. The objectives of the project also included the refurbishment of the first floor pharmacy and some of the operating theatres. However, during execution of the project, the service provider requested a change to some elements of the scope of work, which the Department agreed to. Thereafter, the Department registered a new project to cover all the needs of the client (which was done in 2011). While the project was in the planning stages, a decision was taken in 2014 that it be devolved to the DOD, which was done. Thus, from 2014 the DPWI was not involved in the project.
The Chairperson questioned the legality of the decision taken in 2014, particularly in light of Section 97 of the Constitution.
Mr Mthombeni mentioned that the Department was currently involved in bilateral engagements with the DOD to resolve this issue.
The Chairperson asked that the Minister provide clarity on the matter. Additionally, he asked who should be held accountable for the failures of the RAMP.
Minister De Lille described the project as a total mess. The Department was informed that the DOD has a three year contract for reactive maintenance until 2023. She indicated that it would be best for the Department to make the contract available to the Committee, so that it was able to see the roles and responsibilities of both the DOD and the DPWI. Further, she recommended that the DOD appear before the Committee to account for the progress on the maintenance of the first floor of 1 Military Hospital.
She insisted that the devolution of functions in 2014 to the DOD was an illegal act, as it was not in line with Section 97 of the Constitution. The DPWI has maintained that section 97 must be followed if a department wants functions to be devolved to it.
Whilst there have been instances of overtime and money overruns with DPWI in charge of projects, there was no guarantee that there will be improvements should this function be devolved to the DOD. She indicated that the answer was not to devolve the functions but rather to correct the internal systems, to ensure the detection and the subsequent prevention of all the current issues. In line with this, the Department, through the ISA, conducts project preparation for every major project, which de-risks the project upfront. The Department has asked National Treasury to provide it with R1.5 billion that would be used for project preparation.
The Chairperson mentioned that the two Departments must resolve this issue the next time they meet. He described the project as an unmitigated disaster. He explained that the United Nations selected the hospital to provide services to individuals deployed on peace-keeping missions. It also used to be the pride of the country, as it used to host presidents from other countries, however, it can no longer be referred to in that manner.
He added that the first floor used to accommodate 12 theatres, an intensive care unit, a high care unit, laboratory services and part of the administrative staff. The decision to close down the first floor during the project led to hospitals losing doctors and nurses, thus forcing the Department to outsource health services from the private sector, which has been costly.
Referring to the 2014 devolution of functions, he said that it would be concerning if the functions were devolved from the DPWI to the DOD illegally.
He expressed his disappointment regarding two issues. First, the fact that the DOD did not come prepared to answer questions on the RAMP. Second, regarding the fact that the Acting Secretary for Defence misled the Committee, by pretending as if she knew nothing about the project, yet she was in the meeting when the current Secretary for Defence mentioned that she had written to the Chief of the South African Defence Force to escalate the report to her so that she could then share it with the DPWI. He described this misrepresentation as a serious offence, which speaks to the fitness of the officials appointed to represent the citizens of the country.
While he felt that the meeting had not been a success, he was pleased with the responses provided by both the DPWI and the Minister. He applauded the Minister for applying consequence management against the senior officials implicated immediately after receiving the report in September of this year, whereas the DOD has sat with the report since December 2020 and has still not taken action.
He disagreed with Members’ suggestion that the Committee should subpoena the Department; suggesting rather that it be given time. However, he was disappointed that both the Minister and Secretary of Defence did not inform the Committee that they would not be available for the meeting.
Mr Marais supported the Chairperson’s sentiments. He also indicated his disappointment with the Department’s conduct and recommended that if the Department did not appear before the Committee after it had received a written request to do so, then it would be subpoenaed.
Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) expressed his disappointment regarding the DOD’s conduct.
Mr Ryder, referring to the Joint Rules of Parliament, said that Section 4 of the rules state that any Member of Parliament, may be present in a JSC meeting and engage in the deliberations.
The Chairperson mentioned that it had always been that Members had to be invited to the proceedings and, once in the meeting, the Chairperson would grant them permission to speak.
Mr Ryder requested that he refer the matter to the Chair of Chairs.
Consideration of the minutes 25 November 2021
The Chairperson requested a mover for the adoption of the minutes.
Mr Ryder moved for the adoption of the minutes.
Mr Mmutle seconded the adoption of the minutes.
The minutes were adopted.
The meeting was adjourned
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