Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi File photo: Chris Collingridge

Cape Town - Scandal-prone Public Works is out of the ICU and no longer “bleeding profusely”, says Minister Thulas Nxesi, whose department has been fraught with lease fraud and paying up to R5 million a month for more than 100 vacant properties.

Addressing the media shortly before delivering his budget vote on Wednesday, Nxesi likened the department to a patient, saying when he took over the department it was “bleeding profusely”.

“Cast your minds back two and a half years ago, Public Works was in chaos – no leadership, financial and lease scandals owing to inadequate management controls coupled with widespread corruption,” said Nxesi.

The department, which was at the centre of the R246m Nkandla scandal, was now on the road to recovery and has stabilised, he said.

“We are expecting the doctor to release the patient, but the patient will continue taking medication. That’s Public Works.

“Crucially, leadership has been stabilised with the appointment of a full-time DG (director-general), CFO (chief financial officer) and DDG (deputy director-general) for corporate services,” said Nxesi.

On lease corruption, Nxesi said his department, with the help of the Treasury, conducted an audit of 2 162 properties leased from the private sector and put in place a more “robust” system to manage the leases. As a result of overhauling the supply chain process, they managed to renegotiate leases downward in 50 percent of the cases.

In 2012 the department was also embroiled in a leasing scandal when former police chief Bheki Cele was found to have breached procurement procedures by taking part in the “flawed leasing” of two buildings earmarked for police accommodation.

A deputy director of property leasing was later fired for her involvement in a dodgy multimillion-rand Pretoria lease deal.

“The audit also highlighted leases where fraud and collusion is suspected. Findings included the (department) paying rental to the tune of R5m a month for 108 properties that were vacant or unoccupied.

“The department leased accommodation for government depart-ments, but 12 properties were occupied by non-government tenants, at a cost of R1m a month,” said Nxesi.

In 578 cases no lease agreement could be located, leading to potential irregular expenditure.

DA MP James Masango said: “Today we are debating the budget vote of a department that is well known for all the wrong reasons.

“It is the department that is regarded as a milking cow for the tenderpreneurs of this world.

“It is a get rich quick scheme for high profile government officials and their connections.”

Political Bureau