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Spin doctors on a spending spree

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Published Aug 29, 2012

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Johannesburg - Government spin doctors will get new desks and furniture… in a deal that could cost you R50 million.

In April, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) – the government communicators – will move to a brand new seven-floor customised office building in Hatfield, Pretoria.

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And the department wants brand-new furniture to go with it. And it is shopping without a set budget.

The new furniture – a 38-page shopping list – must come with “training and training manuals”.

“The furniture to be supplied should be brand new and no second-hand will be accepted,” says the list.

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GCIS wants everything from desks and meeting room tables to patio furniture and coat hangers.

Electronic equipment is not included.

The list says the budget is “based on the furniture to be supplied, installed and commissioned”.

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GCIS acting CEO Phumla Williams, when asked for a cost estimate, said: “The reason we have gone out on a bidding process is because we are unable to determine the exact amount it will cost. We will only know once the process has been concluded.”

A Joburg furniture salesman, who declined to be named, said the contract could “comfortably” be worth R50m or more.

After looking through the list and the specifications for the items, he said it could be done more cheaply with a bit of sense and effort.

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The GCIS budget briefly mentions plans to spend “R50m in 2012/13 for office accommodation and costs related to the new head office building”.

Some of the old GCIS furniture could be recycled. The lists says “any redundant and obsolete furniture may be cleared and safely disposed of, thereby avoiding unnecessary waste going into landfill”

However, Williams said they would not throw away usable furniture but would donate it.

“Some of the current furniture, depending on whether it fits into the office plan of the new building, will be kept and used.”

Getting the furniture into the seven-storey building could be a bit of a headache – the department wants it from March 1, but the lifts will start working only when the building is officially handed over a month later.

Much of the furniture has clear specifications, down to the colour code, indicating high costs. Some must be approved by the architect.

The potential costs illustrate prioritising the comfort of bureaucrats over basic service delivery.

For example, the list includes more than 500 desks and, if priced at about R3 500 each for most of them, that’s about R1.75 million. This doesn’t take into account the high-end desks.

The R1.75m is enough to buy about 3 000 school desk-and-chair sets still needed in many schools.

The salesman said the formica finish specified on many items was not even quoted on any more nowadays “because it’s so expensive”.

The “polished aluminium” in/out trays specified would be about R540 each ( nearly R250 000 for the lot), compared to less than R100 each for plastic ones.

He questioned the need for coat hangers – “you only ever get those in state tenders”.

The GCIS shopping list includes dozens of meeting tables, including a “rapid response” 14-seater boardroom table, a “national liaison” 14-seater boardroom table, a “product development” 14 to 16-seater table, a “strategic planning” 24-seater table, two “specialists and government engagement” 20-seater tables, a 26-seater finance boardroom table, a 22-seater research boardroom table, and solid kiaat and solid oak boardroom tables for executives.

The salesman estimated about R60 000 for a 20-seater table and up to R90 000 for a 24-seater.

The four sets of three items – desk, credenza and mobile pedestal cabinet – for an executive's office could run to R100 000. Add armchairs, couches and bookshelves, and the cost spirals.

The salesman said an IT employee's workspace shouldn’t cost more than about R14 000, including computer and software. The GCIS furniture, at the possible R50m for 500 employees nationally, runs to R100 000 a person, without computers.

Layouts and plans show a CEO’s office that’s 58m2 (an RDP house is about 36m2).

GCIS will pay R242.3m rent for the new offices for five years, with an option to renew. The office block was built at between R280m and R310m.

The shopping list includes:

* More than 500 workstations and desks, some with finishes in American walnut wood veneer

* Nearly 200 partition screens

* Hundreds of office chairs

* About 460 in/out trays, wastebins and penholders

* More than 250 filing cabinets

* 53 coat hangers

* 22 executive desk pads

* 54 TV units which can take a bar fridge

* 17 couches

* Dozens of armchairs

* 380 stackable chairs and 105 tables for the auditorium

* 20 dining tables

* 84 lockers for cleaners

* 12 patio umbrellas, 11 outdoor tables, 59 outdoor chairs and 2 outdoor couches

* 1 outdoor gas grill

* 1 massage table

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The Star

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