Thulas Nxesi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Thulas Nxesi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi says the fight against fraud and corruption in his department will not be won overnight as there are "entrenched state capture forces" battling to maintain access to state coffers.

In May, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe several municipalities and government departments, including public works, for fraud and corruption.

The investigating unit would investigate "serious irregularities in relation to procurement of goods and/or services in a manner that was not fair‚ competitive‚ transparent‚ equitable or cost-effective contrary to applicable legal framework".

Updating the media on Thursday on efforts to combat fraud and corruption in his department, Nxesi said the country’s political environment had been transformed.

State-capture forces

"We now have a leader, in President Cyril Ramaphosa, committed to stamping out corruption and turning the tide of state capture, which brought this country to the brink of disaster. But it is not going to happen overnight, and not without a massive struggle against the state-capture forces, which are still entrenched and desperately striving to keep open access to state coffers – yes, including here in public works," the minister said.

Nxesi said he had made a request to the president that the SIU proclamation be extended to investigate what is known as "day-to-day emergency maintenance", following an internal investigation that had pointed to 16,000 suspicious transactions in the department to a total value of R2bn.

He said when he was reappointed to the portfolio in 2017, he had also found that 684 appointments had been pushed through in four months.

"The result of this is to blow the compensation budget on largely nonessential posts so that there is little left to make the technical and professional appointments required to run a highly technical department like public works and its entity, the PMTE [Property Management Trading Entity], which manages the state’s massive property portfolio of 92,000 buildings.

"I therefore requested the minister of public service and administration to assist me to review these appointments," Nxesi said.

"Sure enough, after announcing the investigations, as night follows day, an anonymous document appears with unsupported allegations that Minister Nxesi is siphoning off millions of rands from the department," he said.

"My immediate response is to request a lifestyle audit, starting with myself, but for all the management of public works," Nxesi said.

The head of the SIU, Andy Mothibi, said his team would leave no stone unturned. He said investigations into the department so far had established that almost 2,500 employees were doing business with the state.

Mothibi also highlighted that further investigations had discovered that some landlords were overcharging the department. Landlords had to pay back the department about R500,000 and 81 similar issues of overpayments amounting to about R260m had been referred back to the department.

"The SIU will ensure that there are consequences for fraud and corruption. We will ensure that all funds are returned back to the state and prosecutions will follow," Mothibi said.