Recently appointed Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille says she is determined to root out “institutionalised corruption” at the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI).
Following her appointment in May, de Lille conducted an inquest into the state of affairs at the DPWI and said the “findings laid bare a horrid state of affairs.”
Over the years, de Lille said, “brazen cover quoting, undeclared conflicts of interests and spiralling expenditure had become the norm, crippling the department.”
Now, in conjunction with the country’s law enforcement agencies, the minister has launched a campaign to redeem the department.
“The major problem here is corruption. We have the budget but you cannot maintain or repair the courts if half your budget gets stolen. And we have been doing work on that,” she said.
In an effort to stem the tide and bring the guilty to book, the department has forged relations with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DCPI – the Hawks).
Probes by the SIU, de Lille said, have found that over 3000 DPWI officials have companies that were undeclared.
The modus operandi, she pointed out, unfolded with the said “officials receiving inside information on a particular project and then proceeding to set up a company. That company then gets the work at what De Lille described as ‘highly inflated prices.'”
“And we [don’t] ever finish projects within the budget. There are always [cost] overruns. If we have to build a school and the Department of [Basic] Education gives us R20 million, by the time the school is finished, we would have paid R100 million,” she explained.
“This disgraceful practice is coming to an end,” she said, adding, “We don’t need to go to the President and ask for a proclamation every time we want to investigate.”
Holding officials to account
Additionally, over 3 570 officials have recently been found to be in conflict, as they have companies doing business with the department.
“This is conflict of interest they have not declared, they have not sought permission from the department. That is at the heart of the corruption – where people working in the department, instead of doing their jobs, which is in their job description, they are here to look for business opportunities through corrupt means,” she said.
Adding to the malaise, these companies are new and lack experience.
“They cannot deliver quality services because they were corrupt and set up to steal money from the government. They mess up and every job has to be repeated because they are not qualified to do the job in the first place,” de Lille charged.
Several investigations have been reported to the Hawks and the South African Police Service (SAPS) for criminal prosecution, de Lille said.
The SIU is investigated fraudulent invoices submitted by suppliers for payment, procurement irregularities in rewarding contracts, irregular awarding of tenders and conflict of interest, amongst others.
The SIU has also investigated allegations of cover quoting, where companies submitted different prices under different company names but ultimately, it is the same company.
“There are also many suppliers that are sharing the same address and the same banking account,” de Lille said.
In a recent statement, the department said the SIU has to finalise 356 cases.
“We know a lot more than they think and they will be in court soon — the very same courts that are not being repaired and maintained — so they must stop their shenanigans. We must bring ethical leadership back for the sake of the people we serve,” said de Lille.