Minister airs public works dirty linen
PUBLIC Works Minister Thulas Nxesi yesterday volunteered information to the press and public on the state of corruption in his department and the measures taken against guilty officials.
The department has been plagued by fraud and corruption in its procurement processes. Leases have been agreed to for properties that were never occupied, construction work was done at inflated prices and invoices for renovations to government properties were exaggerated.
Mr Nxesi said the department was being pillaged by syndicates of corrupt officials and business interests, and they did not hesitate to destroy public records to cover their tracks.
Addressing a news conference Mr Nxesi revealed the progress made in investigating about 10 high-profile cases of corruption in his department.
Not the least of these is the controversial R500m lease agreement concluded in favour of property mogul Roux Shabangu for new South African Police Service headquarters in Pretoria.
The deal was found to be irregular and eventually led to both national police commissioner Bheki Cele and then public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde losing their jobs.
He said the matter was still locked up in the high court where the department had applied for the lease deal to be declared invalid. The department was waiting for a court date for the matter to be heard.
Mr Nxesi said then director-general Siviwe Dongwana had been cleared and that the charges on which he was suspended had been found to be frivolous.
Sam Vukela, who was acting director-general after Mr Dongwana’s suspension, had been served in turn with charges relating to the lease agreement, but the disciplinary hearing had been delayed twice by Mr Vukela for health reasons.
In another astonishing incident, Mr Nxesi said that the contract to build a border post at Skilpadhek had been cancelled because the site was unsuitable for construction.
The contractor had been overpaid by R33m and an official had received R1.5m in kickbacks. Criminal fraud charges had been brought against the contractor and the official, Mr Nxesi said.
"Negative reports from the public protector and the auditor-general last year pointed to the depth and scope of corruption in the department — a situation made possible by lack of controls and persistent mismanagement.
"At the same time the quiet, but relentless, work of the Special Investigating Unit — appointed through a presidential proclamation to investigate claims of corruption in the department in 2010 — has uncovered detailed evidence to allow us to proceed with disciplinary processes against certain officials within the department," Mr Nxesi said.
Suspended officials were on full pay, because that was the law, he said. However, he had made it a priority to finalise charges against the suspended officials so that the process could be speeded up, he said.
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