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Repaired or refurbished furniture for ministers as De Lille cracks the whip

10 July 2019 - 20:31 By THABO MOKONE
New public works minister Patricia de Lille has warned ministers of strict austerity measures.
New public works minister Patricia de Lille has warned ministers of strict austerity measures.

Cabinet ministers will  have to make do with "repaired" and "re-upholstered" furniture, as new public works minister Patricia de Lille introduces strict austerity measures within the controversial prestige property portfolio.

Tabling her department's budget vote for the 2019/2020 financial year, De Lille said her department would also, from now, be strictly managing the electricity and water consumption levels of ministers at their state-sponsored luxury  homes in Pretoria and Cape Town.

The government property portfolio has previous been criticised as wasteful, with the standing committee on public accounts in the last parliament slamming the splurge of hundreds of millions of rand on luxury items such as braai facilities, carpets and TVs for ministers.

De Lille said she was discussing the Cape Town utility bill with the metro she used to be the mayor of, as it suspected over-billing.

"There will be no procurement of new furniture. The department will repair, upholster and maintain the existing furniture," De Lille told MPs.

"Members of the executive must manage their water and electricity consumption to minimum and acceptable levels. We are investigating high consumption bills with both the City of Tshwane and the City of Cape Town municipalities. Our property section is presently engaging with the City of Cape Town on over-billing amounting to R20m."

De Lille said random renovations of ministerial offices and houses would now be a thing of the past.

"All ad hoc or emergency refurbishment of offices and residences which are not in the planned maintenance plan will not be allowed, except under exceptional circumstances that are approved by the executive authority.

"While we apply these austerity measures in the prestige portfolio, the department will focus on building internal capacity to ensure that there is minimum outsourcing of maintenance of these residences."

De Lille also announced that she would be making the procurement process of her department much more transparent, with the public now allowed to attend meetings of its tender evaluation and adjudication committees.

The department, known as the government landlord, spends billions of rand buying and leasing buildings for other departments - but its processes are often dogged by allegations of corruption.

"South Africans are sick and tired of fraud and corruption in the public service," said De Lille.

"Transparency is the most important deterrent to corruption. As such, I have already instructed my officials to put measures in place for public scrutiny of our supply chain management processes.

"There will be no secrecy in the award of tenders. From now on, members of the public will be able to observe the evaluation and adjudication of our bidding processes."

Turning to the much-criticised government job opportunities programme, the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), De Lille she would stop it from being used as "patronage" and poor record-keeping.

She said EPWP funds, to which she allocated R2.3bn for this financial year, were being abused by some municipalities.

"Some of these problems continue to occur. It is also a matter of great concern that some municipalities use their EPWP allocations to fund core functions instead of employing people at decent rates and placing them on municipal wage bills. 

"The practise of using EPWP allocations to perform core functions must stop."

DA MP Patricia Kopane said it was concerning that the government continued to provide  and maintain houses for ministers while they paid next to nothing in rent.

Ministers and deputy  ministers pay between R900 and R1,200 per month, but Kopane said many were defaulting.

"What is more disgusting than this misuse of funds, is that there is currently R1.2m in rental payment owed by both former and current ministers and deputy ministers, which is roughly estimated at 1,000 months of rent.

"How did this happen? Your department failed to create stop orders from their salaries.

"Due to your own department’s incompetence, I now have to ask you: how is your department planning on recovering funds from those ministers or MPs who have resigned," asked Kopane.

EFF MP Mathapelo Siwisa said the government should stop allocating houses to ministers in some of the country's most affluent areas, and rather allocate those to the poor.

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