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'I will open my bank accounts': Patricia de Lille on R40m border fence wrangle

18 August 2020 - 15:34 By Thabo Mokone
Public works minister Patricia de Lille has offered to open her bank accounts for scrutiny to prove she did not benefit from the Beitbridge border fence project. File photo.
Public works minister Patricia de Lille has offered to open her bank accounts for scrutiny to prove she did not benefit from the Beitbridge border fence project. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times/Esa Alexander

Public works minister Patricia de Lille has pledged to allow MPs to study her personal bank accounts to prove she is not corrupt and did not benefit from tender irregularities related to the controversial R40m Beitbridge border fence.

De Lille made the undertaking on Tuesday during a joint meeting with parliament's public works committees from the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces.

During the meeting, a number of MPs told De Lille “the buck stops with you, minister” after her acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel presented a report in which De Lille was cleared of any wrongdoing in relation to irregularities in the project.

An investigation conducted by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found irregularities related to the 40km fencing project, including costs being inflated by R14m.

The report also found De Lille had ordered the project to be handled in terms of the Disaster Management Act instead of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

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Smuggling across the SA/Zimbabwe border in Limpopo is rife as desperate Zimbabweans cross the border illegally to purchase foodstuffs. This comes despite a R37 million fence being erected in March 2020. A final report on the construction of the fence is expected to be handed to the public works department soon according to a source close to investigations.

The PFMA would have allowed for competitive bidding before the tender could be issued, a process not followed in the project intended to curb the illegal movement of people between SA and Zimbabwe to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Fazel said the report found De Lille had made an innocent mistake, but 14 others involved in the procurement process would face internal disciplinary charges and the matter would be referred to the police for criminal investigation. The SIU would continue with its investigations.

De Lille said MPs were free to comb through her bank accounts to see she was not corrupt and had not recently received questionable sums of money.

“I want to assure members that we're not trying to hide anything. If there's any allegation of corruption against the minister, like it's being made in public that the minister is corrupt, I am prepared to open up my banking accounts,” she said.

“I am prepared to open up my bank accounts to show I have not benefited from Beitbridge or from any other tender in this department.”

De Lille said while government procurement policies, including the PFMA, had barred ministers from issuing directives on tenders, she had every right to intervene whenever she picked up any wrongdoing.

“The minister has a role to play. The minister must monitor and have oversight on the administration, and that is prescribed in law as to how you do it. The minister or any political head, you are not allowed to interfere in procurement but you are allowed to intervene when you see things going wrong. That is the intervention I have made when I became concerned. Are we getting value for money?

“The intervention I've made was to ask our internal anti-corruption unit to investigate. We've asked the auditor-general to investigate. We now have [an SIU] proclamation,” she said.