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A cabal of 50 contractors – who bought Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele a R1.1-million Mercedes-Benz in appreciation of millions in road construction and maintenance work sent their way – continues to enjoy exclusive access to lucrative Transport Department contracts in KwaZulu-Natal.
Now the SA Federation of Engineering Contractors is asking why no other contractors are allowed to bid for these projects, although there are other emerging contractors which may be eligible.
The “club” of 50 contractors falls under the KZN Transport Department’s Vukuzakhe programme, which was launched in 1998 while Ndebele was MEC, to promote wealth and job-creation among historically disadvantaged communities.
The engineering federation brought an application in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday, seeking several orders.
Among them was that the department be stopped from setting aside work for specific tenderers to the exclusion of other competent contractors.
The matter was adjourned until a date yet to be arranged.
Another was to prevent the department from going ahead with a tender for the extension of the P728 Main Road, Umgababa, which had been temporarily granted pending the outcome of the case.
Another request, to stop the tender for the construction of the Sikwebezi River Bridge, in Nongoma, was withheld, based on “a case of need” for the bridge.
The executive director of the engineering federation, Neville Ernest Gurry, said in court papers that the tender process should be credible and allow the public open competition.
He said that in the discharge of the department’s functions, it regularly issued tender enquiry documents inviting tenders relating to road and bridge construction and the construction and rehabilitation of bridges.
In 2008, the Vukuzakhe programme policy document was updated. The department created a register comprising emerging contractors in several categories.
In one of these categories there were 50 Vukuzakhe contractors, and this figure had remained static, said Gurry.
“In short, it has become an exclusive club,” he said in his court papers.
Gurry added that in terms of tenders, preference was applied to all Vukuzakhe tenders.
“Over the years, the applicant (organisation) has registered its concerns with the department regarding the unfair and unlawful nature of the programme,” Gurry said.
He added that the complaints had been instigated by its members as well as other non-member civil engineering contractors in KZN, who found themselves outside the pool of Vukuzakhe registered entities.
Gurry said he understood that the National Treasury had itself told the department that the exclusion of non-Vukuzakhe registered entities from tenders was not lawful.
The Transport Department’s spokesman, Kwanele Ncalane, said that, while the department respected the right of the engineers to launch the court application, it would, however, be “vigorously opposed”.
“What we are doing is in line with government policies, and it is the responsibility of this government to uplift those who were marginalised before.
“The intention of the programme is to empower and bring to the mainstream of the economy African contractors… and to assist in job-creation,” Ncalane said.
Even before the policy began, the provincial and national treasuries were informed of the programme and approved of it, he said.
Ndebele was transport MEC from 1994 to 2004.
After intense pressure from opposition parties, Ndebele returned the Mercedes, saying that, while President Jacob Zuma had given him permission to keep it, provided he declared it in accordance with the rules of the executive code of ethics, he had decided to give the car back “to keep his name intact” and to avoid any further distraction from more important work he had to attend to.
- The Mercury