Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

DPWI adds DG Vukela on list to be charged with controversial Beitbridge fence

By Mayibongwe Maqhina Time of article published May 12, 2021

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Cape Town - Suspended director-general for Public Works and Infrastructure Department Sam Vukela has been added to the list of officials to be charged in connection with the controversial Beitbridge border post fence.

In March 2020, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille issued a directive to the department to appoint a service provider to use an emergency procurement process to erect the border fence on the Beitbridge border post.

However, an investigation found that the fence cost R40.4m – which consisted of R37.1m payment to the contractor and R3.25m to a professional agent – overpriced by R14m.

It also revealed a series of procurement and other irregularities, including R21.8m upfront payment to the contractor and R1.8m to the principal-agent when construction had not started.

The department was found to have failed to test the market to determine the reasonable contractor and pricing.

Briefing the standing committee on public accounts on Tuesday, acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel said the disciplinary hearings of two of the 13 implicated officials were not being dealt with by the department.

These are Vukela and special advisor to De Lille, Melissa Whitehead.

Fazel said De Lille wrote to the Presidency, informing it of the findings and recommendations of the Beitbridge Border Fence investigation.

“Minister (Jackson) Mthembu wrote to the director-general advocate Sam Vukela on 16 October 2020, informing him of supplementary charges of misconduct relating to the Beitbridge border fence to be added to his charge sheet,” he said.

“The disciplinary action against the director-general is being managed by the Presidency,” Fazel said about Vukela who is facing other charges related to three state funerals.

He also said the disciplinary action against Whitehead was being managed by the state attorney and De Lille served a letter to Whitehead in September 2020, informing her of the intended charges following the findings of the Beitbridge border post report.

Fazel stated that the minister has requested the state attorney to appoint the initiator and chairperson for the ensuing disciplinary process.

“An Initiator and chairperson have been appointed by the State Attorney. The initiator has prepared draft charges against Ms Whitehead.”

Fazel also told the MPs that the state attorney and counsel have been instructed to finalise the final charges for service to all the remaining other officials.

The hearing for members of the bid adjudication committee proceeded with the department leading a witness for three days on procurement processes in March.

The matter was postponed to June 2021 for further testimony and cross- examination of witnesses, he said.

“There are three more witnesses who are still to testify on the matter on behalf of the department,” Fazel said, adding that there were witnesses who were reluctant to testify.

He also revealed that the hearings of the senior officials were scheduled for last week but they were postponed indefinitely after a legal representative of one of the officials launched a court application to review the directive, investigation report and the disciplinary enquiry.

During the meeting, the committee members were concerned about the slow disciplinary procedure.

ANC MP Sakhumzi Somyo noted the complexity involving the Beitbridge border post fence which exposed how the department responded to transgressions.

“It looks like consequence management is grinding slowly. At least those who are involved in such processes must be kindled out to fast track the processes,” Somyo said.

Committee chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said they had been exposed to the reality that the culture of consequence management was absent.

“I just get the sense that there is no urgency,” Hlengwa said.

De Lille said there matters that were beyond their control as the department.

“We are all subjected to legal procedures. There are many factors beyond the control of DPWI that is not in our hands,” she said.

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Political Bureau

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