De Lille takes flak over handling of Beitbridge border fence 'corruption'

02 December 2020 - 12:40 By aphiwe deklerk
Public works minister Patricia de Lille was criticised by parliament's public works portfolio committee on Wednesday regarding the Beitbridge border fence and the Jersey Barrier Wall Project in KwaZulu-Natal.
Public works minister Patricia de Lille was criticised by parliament's public works portfolio committee on Wednesday regarding the Beitbridge border fence and the Jersey Barrier Wall Project in KwaZulu-Natal.
Image: Gallo Images

The department of public works has been criticised over its treatment of Magwa Construction, the company involved in the controversial Beitbridge border fence, and officials implicated in the saga.

Public works minister Patricia de Lille faced heavy criticism while appearing before  parliament's public works portfolio committee on Wednesday.

She and her department were called to provide an update on the action taken after a visit by the committee to the Beitbridge border fence between SA and Zimbabwe and the Jersey Barrier Wall Project in KwaZulu-Natal.

In the department's progress report, it said 13 employees in the department were facing charges over the Beitbridge saga and the process was ongoing. 

The department told the committee it had referred the matter to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) tribunal. 

Committee chairperson Nolitha Ntobongwana was among the MPs who led the charge against the department for its handling of the saga.

“You may correct me, I don't see anyone being suspended for now. I see disciplinary actions taking place. In fact, it's only one person who is suspended, which is the DG [director-general].

“I don't see any word or any sentence that says they are out of work and we are doing this while they are maybe on precautionary suspension,” said Ntobongwana.

She called for clear time frames in dealing with the matter. and criticised the time taken by the department to complete the case of suspended DG Sam Vukela.

“On the issue of Beitbridge, I am seriously worried. We asked that the company be blacklisted. We have seen on the news other companies that have done shoddy work in other provinces, where you find the companies' bank accounts are frozen.

“Assets are taken. From cars [to] houses, are taken but nothing is happening with this company. We have checked how this company has performed with public works. There are many questions, there are many red flags,” said Ntobongwana. 

ANC MP Elphus Mathebula raised concern about the impact of possible staff suspensions,  saying he was worried about the effect on the department.

He asked the department to reveal the extent to which the 13 employees contributed to the alleged corruption. 

EFF MP Mathapelo Siwisa blamed the department for a lack of proper oversight in the processing of the Beitbridge contract and the department's action in dealing with its aftermath.

De Lille, however, defended her department, saying it was in a monitoring crisis because 12 senior managers had been hired irregularly. She said a case dealing with the matter was before the labour court.

Regarding the 13 staffers, De Lille said her department had to act according to labour laws.

“People who are alleged to be involved in corruption also have rights, although this takes very long in some cases. In terms of the suspended DG, I can get a report by early next year,” said De Lille.

She said the SIU had already filed papers for the purpose of freezing bank accounts related to the Beitbridge scandal.

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