Briefing by DPWI panel of engineers on fire damage at Parliament; with Minister
Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament
01 April 2022
Chairperson: Ms B Mabe (ANC) and Ms D Mahlangu (ANC, Mpumalanga)
In a virtual meeting, the Committee was updated by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) on the progress made working on damage relating to the January 2022 fire in Parliament.
The briefing followed a meeting between the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure regarding the progress made repairing the damage caused by the fire.
The Committee was briefed by the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) and DPWI. They reported on the progress made and nature of the damage to Parliament. The team of engineers highlighted the various phases to ensure safety and restoration of the building. Phase one comprised the initial assessment of the damage caused by the fire, and phase two could only be implemented once the Hawks completed their investigations.
Members heard that the current structural damage did not pose any risk of building collapse. There was a recommendation to erect a temporary roof to combat the strong Cape Town winds and the expected harsh rains.
There are severe structural damages to several parts of the National Assembly, namely from the second to sixth floors. The CDC recommended cordoning off certain areas deemed unsafe, and, in partnership with the Hawks, they taped certain areas of the precinct to indicate the severity of the damage.
Another issue reported was the extent of the water damage. In collaboration with the City of Cape Town, the Department would be routing basement water extraction into municipal sewers. The project was going well, and water levels had decreased by roughly one meter.
The Minister highlighted that the report was a work-in-progress and that the DPWI would have meetings with the Speaker every other week to report the progress. An action plan would be devised by Department with specific dates and implementation timeframes.
Phase two of the report is expected to be submitted by early May 2022, subject to the Hawks completing its investigation.
Members welcomed the report, but there were concerns about the issue of procurement and costs incurred. Some Members flagged expenditure and asked whether record was being kept of the costs incurred during this project.
Members also wanted clarity about whether the building would be able to be used any time soon or whether Parliament should consider finding alternative work spaces. Questions were asked about restoration and what could be salvaged.
Health and safety concerns were and temporary structural changes made to ensure the safety of staff and members of the public.
The Committee looked forward to further engagement especially on restoration. It was stressed that this was a progress report and the full report would only be complete once the water was pumped out of the basement. The second phase report would determine the extent of damage, costs incurred and construction time
The Chairperson welcomed all Members to the meeting, acknowledging the presence of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (the Speaker), and the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), Ms Patricia de Lille.
There were apologies from Mr M Moletsane (EFF, Free State), Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape), the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Lechesa Tsenoli, Ms D Dlakude (ANC), and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Mr Amos Masondo.
The Chairperson outlined the meeting agenda, indicating the purpose of the meeting was for the Committee to be briefed on progress made in the investigation of the damage to the affected buildings of Parliament, following the 2 January 2022 fire.
She handed over to the Speaker, who highlighted that the briefing resulted from a meeting between herself and Minister de Lille earlier in the week. The Speaker said the meeting was necessary for the Committee to be updated on the progress made since its last meeting on the matter.
The Speaker said that DPWI had done a lot of work since the fire. The report to be presented was preliminary and showed the extent of work done behind the scenes.
The assessment was conducted by a group of engineers from the Coega Development Corporation (CDC). The Speaker highlighted that she was highly impressed by the report, although it indicated work was still underway. The report showed a clear picture of the nature of how long it should take to emerge from the ruins.
The Speaker shared that the Minister thought it would be good if the current meeting were closed, as there are still investigations underway. Members of Parliament still have no access to the building, which is only accessible to the Hawks and the engineers conducting assessments. The Minister had indicated to the Hawks that the meeting would go ahead to update the Committee.
She warned Members there might be limitations in the report, often related to some of the ongoing operations.
The Speaker said the duty of the Committee is not to deal with the investigation of the criminal act itself but rather engage on what the CDC engineers would present concerning the extent of the damage.
The Executive Authority of Parliament agreed on weekly meetings with the Minister to be briefed on progress made by the engineers. She reiterated her delight in the professionalism displayed by the team.
Minister de Lille confirmed there was a meeting on 29 March with the Speaker, following which there was agreement to brief the Committee on the progress made.
The Minister explained the Hawks had not yet handed over the building to DPWI as it was still a crime scene. The team of engineers were accompanied by the Hawks when they conducted assessments in the building. The Hawks had oversight on the various sections of Parliament.
The Minister introduced the team of engineers from the CDC: The Chief Executive, Mr Khwezi Tiya, the Executive Manager of Operations, Mr Themba Khoza, the Executive Manager of Business Development, Mr Chuma Mbande, and Mr Christo Beukes, the Programme Manager.
She also noted the presence of officials from the DPWI, Mr Mzwandile Sazona, the Chief Director of Prestige Policy, and Ms Themba Kholela [spelling not confirmed] from the Cape Town Regional Office.
Report from Coega and DPWI
Mr Imtiaz Fazel, acting Director-General, DPWI, took the Committee through the presentation, indicating that it would cover two main areas. The presentation provided an update on developments concerning the ongoing investigations.
Mr Fazel said phase one is still incomplete because of a few outstanding areas. This phase enabled the Hawks to gather forensic information about the damaged building.
Phase two was a more detailed assessment to allow DPWI and the team of engineers to look at options for refurbishment and other aspects of recovery of the building.
An internal DPWI team of engineers were dispatched to the scene in early January 2022 to conduct a preliminary assessment of the extent of the damage. The findings recommended that the National Assembly be cordoned off to restrict access -this was immediately communicated to Parliament and there was an agreement.
There was a recommendation to appoint a specialist team of engineers to conduct further detailed damage assessments. He outlined the terms of reference and indicated that the appointment of the CDC was made on 11 February 2022, based on the cheapest bid.
The scope of services included two phases: firstly, an initial assessment report evaluated the extent of the structural damage and other structural issues. And second, a detailed assessment report addressed the extent of the damage and other structural problems, a pronouncement on the residual strength of the structure (including all relevant tests and analysis), and a proposed estimate of the rehabilitation project.
Mr Tiya introduced the team from the CDC, highlighting that the members comprising the team all have an engineering background, and this was critical for the work being carried out.
He stressed sensitivity to the nature of the work done, ensuring that the highest level of professionalism was given to Parliament. The presentation indicated the best the team could do, given the timeframe given, without sacrificing critical professionalism required.
Mr Beukes said the building’s physical assessments began on 15 February 2022.
He took the Committee through the images which showed the damage to the Old Assembly building and an aerial view of its walls and roof. There were no major damages to the overall structure and no foreseen possibility that it could collapse. The CDC made recommendations for measures for the temporary protection of the walls to prevent high winds damaging them any further. There was also a recommendation for a temporary roofing system to mitigate any rain entering the building, possibly causing further water damage. The DPWI was already addressing the remedial work that needed to be done in that regard.
He also presented images of the work being done on the ground floor. There was limited fire damage on these floors - most of the damage was due to smoke or water.
Most of the damage occurred on the top floor of one particular wing of the building. The Committee was shown the heat damage to some of the structures but was told there was no damage to reinforced plastering.
Mr Beukes said the assessment found fire damage in certain offices on the lower ground. There were certain areas where no evidence of fire damage was found.
Slight damage was visible in the entrance lobby of the National Assembly, caused by the intensity of the heat from the smoke trying to escape the building. The entranceway to the main chamber was especially highlighted: During the assessment, the fire department indicated that before they began to blaze the fire entering the chamber, they measured 450 degrees outside the chamber. According to various evaluations, it was estimated the temperature could have reached a high of 900 degrees, causing much damage to the concrete.
There was copper wiring and other metal materials which showed signs of melting; this also indicated the intensity of the fire.
Limited damage was found on the mezzanine level, e.g. safety signs were still in place. Paintwork on the columns was still intact. The lift lobby also had no fire damage. That was an indication to the engineers that the fire was limited to the central area inside the chamber.
A significant amount of damage from the heat of the fire occurred on the first floor, entering the main chamber. The presentation showed the damage to the concrete, which had spoilt away from the rebar due to heat intensity. A lot of concrete chunks were found in this area. The chamber had quite a unique structural design and the team had to trace a structural design engineer who advised on the design philosophy of the structure.
On the second floor, which is also a double volume chamber, there was not much structural damage caused by the fire. On the inside of this particular area, there is visible damage seen. Due to the extent of the damage on the third floor, engineers could not enter as it posed much of a threat. The pictorial evidence was captured from the doorway.
Due to the heat from below and the structural damage on the floors, the engineers found that the floor had shifted about 70mm.
Mr Beukes highlighted that the current structural damage did not indicate risk of collapse, and the investigation of the Hawks can therefore continue. The safety measures put in place in the National Assembly for the Hawks to safely conduct their investigations included three working zones: green (safe), amber (under guidance by engineers) and red (no-go zone until temporary access structures provided).
There were concerns that safety barriers would interfere with the evidence. Therefore the engineers agreed with the Hawks that safety tape with signs would be the safer option to demarcate the red no-go zones.
He indicated the progress dates for the various developments made. The CDC submitted its final draft report on 22 February 2022. There are plans to devise an action register as other issues arise, which would indicate responsibilities, timelines and actions taken. A cost proposal was submitted to DPWI on 2 March 2022 for additional services for implementing the report recommendations for making safe buildings and other additional services.
Meetings were held with the fire department, City of Cape Town officials, and the DPWI to resolve the basement water extraction into municipal sewers on 25 February 2022 due to the volume of water and the previous method not being cost-effective. The City of Cape Town issued a permit for water pumping into the sewers system, stipulating certain conditions. Once the extraction is complete, the CDC team will inspect the basement areas, incorporate findings into the phase one initial assessment report, and issue a final report.
Various health risks were identified, including a huge breed of mosquitoes in the water in the basement area. A gas smell was detected on the fourth floor, which could possibly be hydrogen sulphide, which is highly flammable.
The Hawks concluded its investigation on 29 March 2022 and are currently handing the building back to DPWI. The implementation of phase two depended on the Hawks and the fire forensic investigation’s respective completion dates.
Mr Fazel acknowledged the City of Cape Town for allowing the pumping of excess water into their sewer system. He confirmed that the Hawks had handed the building back to DPWI and that there were ongoing engagements with the head of Hawks to confirm that in writing. The building remains a national key point and it is still considered a national priority investigation. Therefore there should be caution and sensitivity when handling such matters to not contaminate any evidence while in the building.
The pumping of water was proceeding well. Work was done at night to allow normal business to continue during the day. The water levels were estimated to have dropped by one meter already.
The Minister again indicated that DPWI was developing an action plan with clear dates, and this would be made available in a week, possibly when they meet with the Speaker to provide updates. She commended the CDC for its professionalism in handling the matter under compromising circumstances.
The Speaker also praised the team implementing the work.
Chairperson Mabe reiterated that the report indicated work-in-progress, and therefore the Committee should engage with that in mind. She appreciated the work done by DPWI and the CDC.
She suggested the buildings should be named according to their correct and specific names in the report to allow for an easier system of reference.
She also reminded Members that the Hawks had not yet handed over the building to Public Works as it was still a crime scene.
She asked for further explanation of National Treasury deviation regarding prescribed tender policies. She also raised concerns about the costs of the erection of a temporary roof and sought clarity on how it would be done.
She highlighted that the report did not touch on any issues of criminal activity because it was a separate matter, and therefore Members should refrain from asking about it. Instead, they should stick to matters of damage and construction.
Ms S Graham (DA) referred to the Minister's response in the 11 February 2022 engagement, where it was said that the CDC would not be considered for any work the Department was currently implementing because it would be a conflict of interest. Based on a cost proposal submitted by the CDC, which was approved, she asked how the scope of the work had increased and how the competitive process had been avoided.
She asked what the additional costs' value was and how it did not present a conflict of interest.
She also asked for clarity on the additional costs concerning the term contractor and if there were separate records of these costs to measure the extent of the financial implications of the fire damage.
She asked if Parliament would work together with the DPWI to ensure ease of access to anyone working within the precinct.
Ms M Hicklin (DA) was concerned about procurement problems experienced in the past and access to the parliamentary precinct in an emergency.
She said that DPWI needed to ensure no deviations and no overspending. She asked if the Department was keeping a tight rein on cost overruns due to contract extensions.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) thanked the Speaker and the Minister for the briefing.
He raised concerns about the points in the report where immediate dangers were highlighted but would only be attended to after the Hawks’ investigation. He stressed immediate dangers should be attended to immediately as they pose imminant risk to people in the vicinity. He suggested that perhaps there should be areas cordoned off, especially for members of the public walking through the Gardens, more so as Cape Town is notorious for harsh winds and rains.
He understood the need for a temporary roof, given the rain conditions expected in the Western Cape.
He further commented on the possible use of parts of the building but understood that might be difficult with the ongoing investigations.
Ms S Gwarube (DA) acknowledged the timelines set out by the CDC and the DPWI. She asked what structural components would inform the experts that a building could possibly be refurbished. She noted the sections of the report that indicated the various zones that could be used and those that were off bounds. She said it seemed the red areas indicated that no one could have access to those areas and the orange sections were also restricted.
She said that in a separate process, Members of Parliament would need to explore ways of getting back to work and how this would be physically possible.
She asked if, in phase two, there was some indication as to which parts of the building might be salvaged. She continued to commend the report noting it was very useful as it would serve as a guide in discussions on alternative venues and timelines.
She asked for further clarity on the building handed over by the Hawks to DPWI. She asked whether timelines should be expected from DPWI.
She asked the Minister for clarity on the cost implications thus far. She asked how cost-sharing worked.
Ms O Maotwe (EFF) noted the importance of this Joint Committee in Parliament. She complained that often Members do not get answers to their questions during the discussions.
She suggested the Speaker look at the areas highlighted as safety concerns in the report as it would affect Members of Parliament and the public too.
She said there needed to be an understanding of the DPWI because toward the end of the presentation, there was an indication that the restoration project would commence as soon as internal processes were completed. She asked where the DPWI received the mandate that there would be restoration of the ‘apartheid legacy’. She said that the scope of DPWI needs to be defined. It is not possible to hear from a service provider that a restoration project will begin.
Ms Maotwe said that the EFF wrote a letter to the acting secretary to understand how far was the report for the feasibility study of relocating Parliament to Tshwane. She said she was aware that a report was submitted on this matter to Parliament. The response from the acting secretary indicated that there was new leadership and that they needed time. She asked how long it took the Speaker to go through such a report.
Mr A Shaik Emam (NFP) welcomed the report. He said that he would like clarity on the timeframe for the restoration process.
He asked if the extent of the damage to some of the buildings was considered, i.e. if there was a need to rebuild or restore.
He raised concerns about whether due process in procurement was being followed, as the report on the extent of the damages was issued now.
He asked if the same team implementing the restoration was the same team compiling the report. He asked to be shown the due processes followed.
He also asked for clarity on the “lower floor” and indicated that perhaps specific names should be used when referring to Parliament's buildings.
Mr X Qayiso (ANC) appreciated the presentation and progress made. He asked if any items belonging to Members were recovered. He asked if the Department had a process to identify the valuable belongings and bring them back to Members.
He noted the comment at the beginning of the meeting that perhaps the session needed to be closed to the public - what was the reason for this?
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) appreciated the presentation. She asked for transparency on the processes followed in identifying the service providers. It was important to ensure that procurement processes were not undermined. She asked for a total figure that had been spent thus far - there must be clarity on who is footing the bill.
Response from DPWI and the CDC
The Minister reiterated that the report was a progress report and was currently in phase one. The report can only be concluded once all the water in the basement is pumped out for the CDC to include the basement assessment in the phase one report. Phase two would commence thereafter, but only once the building was officially handed over to DPWI, in writing. Only then would the second phase of assessments commence. The process is currently still in the assessment stage.
She assured the Committee that no restoration would be starting in May.
She said the CDC would assess the extent of the damage and cost and estimate a timeframe for restoration. After that, DPWI will report back to Parliament and come back with proposals on how to move forward. The CDC reported that the facade of the National Assembly seems not to have been as affected by the fire. The report would be shared with Members.
She addressed the concerns raised by Ms Maotwe, saying that no decisions were made and no scope of work was determined because DPWI had to wait until the second phase of the report was conducted.
She said the Constitution stipulated an Act of Parliament was needed to change the seat of the national legislature. Therefore the constitutional obligation must first be carried out before Parliament could decide to change its seat.
Ms Maotwe responded that the question was posed to the Speaker and not to the Minister, as she was aware that the Minister did not have the authority to change that.
The Minister addressed the question of the hesitation to have the meeting open to the public. She indicated the matter was still a crime scene and there was an agreement between the Hawks and the DPWI that the Hawks should first approve any information released. The Hawks gave DPWI permission to share the information after looking at the report.
Mr Beukes addressed the question of the extent of damage to the structure and whether it would be demolished or refurbished. He echoed the Minister by saying that the second phase report would determine the extent of damage, costs incurred and construction time. He said that it might be premature to report on that for the time being.
The temporary roof on the National Assembly building was an immediate intervention from the CDC. A permanent structure that was the design of the old building would take time, and re-occupancy of the lower floors of the building would require a cost-effective, temporary roofing structure. There was not yet a requirement for the breaking of walls.
Mr Fazel said the procurement process was competitive and endorsed by National Treasury. DPWI received a deviation from National Treasury to allow it to conduct its own competitive process. The Department selected specific implementing agents that would provide quotations to do the work for phases one and two from its own database. The CDC proposal was one third of the cost of other competitors. The estimated amount was around R500 000 in total for both phases.
On the scope of work, the CDC identified additional work such as the bracing of the walls and DPWI undertook the work internally. There are no cost implications as a result of that.
Mr Swart reiterated his question concerning the loose items on the roof. He asked if that could be sorted out before the Hawks' investigation was complete.
Mr Beukes replied that this could only be addressed after the Hawk's investigation was complete as DPWI has not yet established a contractor. If the concerns were immediately addressed, they might tamper with evidence needed in the investigation.
Mr B Radebe (ANC) highlighted that the Joint Committee was important in overseeing funds spent within Parliament. He echoed the sentiment of Mr Qayiso about the meeting being closed to the public.
He asked when the pathway of the Old Assembly would be re-opened.
He also asked who would be able to verify the credibility of the information on the side of Parliament among the team of engineers. He appreciated the work being done.
The Minister agreed with Mr Radebe that the Committee certainly did have oversight powers over the finances of Parliament. DPWI was committed to providing a weekly report to the Speaker, and the final assessment would provide information on the extent of the damage.
The Speaker noted that it was a bit premature to bring the report to the Committee. However, she felt that it would be better if the Minister briefed the Committee on the progress made.
She referred to the points raised by Mr Radebe that the Committee had oversight responsibility.
On the issue of the relocation of Parliament, this would need to be a serious political decision requiring collective thinking and decision making.
The Speaker had consultations with the person in charge of facilities, Ms Zungu. However, there would be a need to establish an advisory team of engineers with expertise that would assist Parliament to interpret all the terminology used by the CDC in its work.
She highlighted that the issue of the roof would not be a simple task to fulfil.
She responded to the query of the NCOP chamber and confirmed this chamber was reported not to have been damaged. There are possibilities that it might be used again soon.
She asked Members to exercise patience in dealing with this matter.
The Speaker expressed confidence in the work being done.
Chairperson Mabe said the Committee looked forward to further engagement especially on restoration.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mabe, Ms BP
Brauteseth, Mr TJ
De Lille, Ms P
Graham, Ms SJ
Gwarube, Ms S
Hicklin, Ms MB
Lesoma, Ms RMM
Mahlo, Ms NP
Maotwe, Ms OMC
Qayiso, Mr XS
Radebe, Mr BA
Shaik Emam, Mr AM
Singh, Mr N
Swart, Mr SN
Van Schalkwyk, Ms SR
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