'Public works failing soldiers'

Parliament - The public works department is failing the country's soldiers, parliament's defence portfolio committee heard on Wednesday.

Briefing MPs on the state of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) facilities, defence secretary Sam Gulube told them he had originally intended to be diplomatic when addressing them on the failure of public works to maintain army properties.

he public works department is failing the country's soldiers, parliament's defence portfolio committee heard. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

However, SANDF chief Solly Shoke had ordered him to be frank.

“The chief of the SANDF said no... don't go there and be diplomatic. Tell the committee, in no uncertain terms, how much our soldiers have been let down by the department of public works,” Gulube said.

He then proceeded to describe how under-spending by the department had left SANDF facilities in a run-down state.

According to a document tabled at the briefing, only 38 percent of SANDF facilities are in an acceptable condition.

Just over half the living quarters occupied by soldiers are deemed to be in a fair condition, and need substantial work to get them to an acceptable level.

Four percent are considered hazardous, while two percent are in such a state of disrepair they need to be demolished.

“The SANDF's ability to effectively deliver on its constitutional mandate was severely impacted,” Gulube said.

The morale of soldiers was being negatively affected by the conditions they were living and working under.

“The ceilings are falling apart. Some [soldiers] are sleeping in rooms dripping with water,” he said.

This was in direct contravention of occupational health standards.

Gulube said the operational readiness of the SANDF was placed at risk by this non-compliance with regulations and the resultant demoralising effect on soldiers.

He said the maintenance backlog in 2011 was R8 billion, and had increased since then.

“We have requested public works to transfer these facilities for our maintenance,” Gulube said.

According to the defence department's estimates, if the maintenance responsibility was transferred to the SANDF, government could save about R1bn a year.