Patricia de Lille. File photo: SUNDAY TIMES
Patricia de Lille. File photo: SUNDAY TIMES

Public works minister Patricia De Lille is facing calls from DA MPs to step down following damning findings by the National Treasury and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) detailing the irregular procurement process for the construction of a R40m fence at the Beitbridge border.

The findings, presented to parliament’s public finance watchdog Scopa on Tuesday, detailed how procurement processes were flouted to suit the bid of one company and consultants.  

The border fence between SA and Zimbabwe was part of the government’s intervention to seal the country’s borders to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The fence was cut soon after it was erected, raising issues of shoddy workmanship.

The government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been marred by corruption allegations relating to procurement. Accusations that government officials have been issuing procurement deals to politically connected individuals, including family members and friends, have dominated the headlines in recent weeks.

In July, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the SIU to probe all allegations of Covid-19 procurement irregularities, including the Beitbridge fence issue.

The 37km fence was built by little-known Caledon River Properties, trading as Magwa Construction. Magwa describes itself as an affirmative action civil, building and mechanical engineering construction company that has been operating since 2005.

The department of public works’ national bid adjudication committee also appointed Profteam CC as the principle agent and paid it R3.2m to provide professional consultant services, but in effect it did not do any work.

The SIU told MPs that its investigation revealed procurement irregularities, as well as possible fraud. The irregularities identified include irregular application of emergency procurement; irregular appointment of the contractor and the principal agent; and the effecting of an advance payment of R21.8m to the contractor and R1.8m to the principal agent within days of their respective appointments and before construction began.

The SIU is pushing for the contract to be cancelled and for the monies paid to be recovered.

The National Treasury highlighted that Magwa Construction was irregularly given the contract and that the transaction could not be deemed as an emergency procurement.

The National Treasury also raised concerns about De Lille’s involvement in the saga. It highlighted the minister’s directive stating that the CFO should advise the department “as to the costs in order to secure the provisions for this emergency variation order. The CFO shall put emergency mechanisms in place for payment of the contractor for work undertaken on a weekly basis”.

It was suggested that De Lille seemed to have had a supplier or contractor in mind.

Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa called for De Lille’s role in the debacle to be investigated further. He said the committee wants a report specifically on the minister’s role within 14 days.

DA MP Samantha Graham-Maré said the SIU and National Treasury findings not only implicate De Lille but also give Ramaphosa enough evidence to fire her.

“The DA is of the view that Treasury’s findings implicate minister De Lille to the extent that she unduly interfered in the procurement process for the fence and that this makes her complicit in the corruption that took place. President Ramaphosa should do the right thing and fire ... De Lille,” Graham-Maré said.

De Lille, who told MPs on Tuesday she is prepared to be held accountable, is the only non-ANC MP in Ramaphosa’s cabinet. She clashed with the DA during her tenure as Cape Town mayor and subsequently established her own party known as Good.

“I will never runaway from accountability...when it comes to procurement, if there is any evidence that I benefited from this tender, then bring it forward,” De Lille said, adding that she had implemented several measures to clean up the department since  she assumed office.

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