Public Works turning the tide on fraud and corruption

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Department of Public Works’ concerted efforts to cleanse itself of crippling fraud and corruption are bearing fruit, Minister Thulas Nxesi said on Thursday. 

This much was evident in findings of probes into the department released by Nxesi and Advocate Lekhoa Mothibi of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). The investigations, relating to several proclamations, were conducted by the SIU. 

In 2012 during his first stint as Public Works Minister, Nxesi announced a two-pillar seven-year turnaround strategy. The strategy included zero tolerance to fraud and corruption, as well as improving the way the department did business. 

The Minister today emphasised that the protracted war against corruption would not be won overnight and not without a massive struggle against “State capture forces, which are still entrenched and desperately striving to keep open access to State coffers”. 

Blowing the lid off corruption

Upon his reappointment to the Public Works portfolio in February, Nxesi announced two investigations. The first was for the President to extend the SIU proclamation to investigate “day-to-day emergency maintenance”. This was after an internal investigation identified 16 000 suspicious transactions amounting to R2 billion.  

The second probe was into 684 appointments, which had been pushed through in four months. 

“The result of this is to blow the compensation budget on largely non-essential posts so that there is little left to make the technical and professional appointments to run a highly technical department like Public Works and its PMTE (Property Management Trading Entity),” Nxesi said.

The PMTE manages the State’s 92 000 building-strong portfolio. The appointments were reviewed with the assistance of the Department of Public Service and Administration Minister, Ayanda Dlodlo. 

Mothibi said the investigation into procurement and administration of leases awarded between 1 June 2003 and 27 August 2014 had made several damning findings against the public sector and public servants.

Holding officials to account 

He said the department had uncovered unauthorised, irregular and fruitless or wasteful expenditure. The SIU, he said, had massive overpayment and overcharging. 

“We have recovered some of these. Landlords overstated space leased to government. We are busy with the recoveries. In various instances, occupational safety issues,” Mothibi said. 

As at the end March, over 1 000 leases had been investigated.  

“In the instances where there’s overcharging, the department will be informed and landlords [will sign] acknowledgement of debt,” he said.

He said 81 matters have been referred to Public Works for potential recovery of about R265 million from overpayment and VAT. Various cases, worth R807 million, were at various stages of civil litigation. 

Several department officials implicated in the various cases have been hurled before internal disciplinary processes, while some have resigned. Many have been dismissed and others have faced a range of sanctions, said Public Works acting Director-General Imtiaz Fazel.

“It’s not a majority of the public servants. It’s a few rotten apples, who are sometimes very sophisticated in how they engage in these activities. The struggle against fraud and corruption, both in the public and private sector, should be the main priority for South Africa as we seek to get this country back on track for economic development and genuine transformation.

“The new political landscape under the leadership of President Ramaphosa, which is committed to fighting fraud and corruption, will take us forward.

“This fight will not be a single event. It’s a process which requires meticulous investigative work of the SIU and other branches of law enforcement. It requires the support of all of us, especially whistleblowers. We have received valuable information through these channels,” said Nxesi. –