Free State housing head says he should have done more to probe asbestos deal

28 September 2020 - 20:00 By Ernest Mabuza
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo on Monday grilled head of the Free State human settlements department Nthimotse Mokhesi on the province's controversial asbestos project.
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo on Monday grilled head of the Free State human settlements department Nthimotse Mokhesi on the province's controversial asbestos project.
Image: Alon Skuy

Free State human settlements department head Nthimotse Mokhesi said on Monday that he perhaps should have done more to probe the awarding of a lucrative asbestos contract in the province to a joint venture that did little work.

Mokhesi was presenting his evidence before the state capture commission concerning the award of the R255m tender in 2014 to audit and assess households in the province with asbestos roofing.

The tender was awarded to Blackhead Consulting and Diamond Hill Trading. The joint venture later subcontracted Mastertrade 232 to do the audit. Mastertrade, in turn, subcontracted ORI Group to do the audit and assessment for R21.3m.

Questions were asked as to why the department did not pick up problems with this contract, including the fact that the joint venture was appointed to perform two tasks: the audit of all households with asbestos roofing and the the actual removal of the asbestos.

Not only did the JV not remove the asbestos, it was not qualified to do so.

Evidence leader Paul Pretorius referred Mokhesi to a "so-called" appointment letter dated October 1 2014 addressed by Mokhesi to the CEO of Blackhead Consulting JV.

He said the letter states the "department wishes to advise that your company has been exclusively appointed for the audit and assessment of asbestos handling of hazardous material, removal and disposal of asbestos-contaminated rubble ... with SABS-approved materials in the Free State province".

Commission chairperson deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo said it was very strange that the price the department specified in a letter of appointment for a job that consisted of two tasks was actually not correct.

"How do you say in correspondence as a department that the price for doing A and B is R850 per house when actually R850 per house is a price for A only?" Zondo asked.

Mokhesi said the second part of the task would not have been possible for R850.

"I hear what you are saying, chair, in terms of the material omission from what the proposal was originally. If there was no problem in terms of the appointment and we could have continued into the second phase, this would have been corrected," Mokhesi said.  

Pretorius said the commission had heard evidence and the question of accountability came to the fore again and again.

"The senior officials lay blame on the junior officials. The junior officials say, 'We were following orders,' and ultimately nobody is accountable for what happened," he said.

"Surely there must be a point at which someone says, 'I am accountable, and I am responsible and must take the consequences'?" 

Mokhesi said the fact that he was at the commission meant he was taking accountability and there were consequences for him.

"I am not abdicating on my accountability. I might not have been responsible but I am still accountable because those officials who are below me report to me," he said.

Zondo said that answer was quite important.

"I hope that before the end of the work of this commission, I am going to see more and more leaders - whether it is in public service or political leaders - who are going to say ... I was in charge, I was part of a collective that was in charge and I am here to say I take responsibility'," he said.

"I am hoping I will hear some people within our country who will be able to say a lot of things went wrong, and who will stop pushing blame to other people - or at least if they do, they will be able to say, 'I am also to blame in regard to this.'"

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