Gauteng legislature annoyed at no-show of human settlements top brass

Department was expected to give presentation on abandoned housing projects

03 September 2021 - 11:26
By Belinda Pheto
Human settlements, urban planning and Cogta MEC Lebogang Maile failed to attend a planned meeting with the Gauteng legislature's portfolio committee. File photo.
Image: Mabuti Kali Human settlements, urban planning and Cogta MEC Lebogang Maile failed to attend a planned meeting with the Gauteng legislature's portfolio committee. File photo.

Gauteng MEC for human settlements, urban planning and co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) Lebogang Maile, together with top managers from his department, were a no-show at a planned meeting with the portfolio committee on co-operative governance and human settlements on Friday morning.

The department was expected to give a presentation on abandoned housing projects in the province.

The committee was also looking forward to hearing from the department about factors resulting in the provincial challenge, and its implementation plans to ensure all abandoned housing projects in the province are finalised and handed over to the rightful beneficiaries.

The portfolio committee had said it was specifically interested in the allocation of funds,  appointment of contractors, the beneficiary verification process and project timelines in place to enable its oversight on the process.

Over the past few days, the portfolio committee conducted oversight visits to abandoned housing projects in Etwatwa, Kagiso and Klipspruit as part of its focused intervention study (FIS) assessment.

The committee said the study is aimed at assessing the department’s progress in finalising abandoned and incomplete housing projects in the province.

Committee chairperson Kedibone Diale and other members expressed disappointment in the conduct of the department.

Department official Sipho Cetshwayo told the meeting top officials could not make it to the meeting as it clashed with their own internal monthly management meeting. Diale and other members were not happy with that explanation.

The department sent regional managers to the meeting to do the presentations, but the members felt they would not get answers from them. Diale said they had met the regional managers during their oversight visits and meeting them on Friday morning would be a repetition of the information they had received.

“We don’t take this kindly at all. Even during our oversight visits, none of the top officials joins us, except for the CFO who accompanied us on some oversight visits,” Diale said.

We expect managers with powerful signatures to be here ... We expected the MEC, head of department and CFO.
Committee chair Kedibone Diale

“We expect managers with powerful signatures to be here. Regional managers were supposed to be here to support them. We expected the MEC, head of department and CFO.”

Member Gregory Schneemann said it would have been helpful if the department had timeously communicated with Diale’s office to let them know about their unavailability so the meeting could have been moved to the afternoon.

Responding to the committee's concerns, the MEC's spokesperson Castro Ngobese said “senior officials” did go to the meeting, “with the exception of Maile and [head of department] Phindile Mbanjwa.

“The absence of MEC Maile and HOD were formally communicated to the portfolio committee members in line with the legislature’s protocols and channels of communication. MEC Maile takes the work of the portfolio committee very seriously since it plays an oversight role over government’s service delivery records and usage of public funds. [He] finds it unfortunate that [the] sitting had to be abandoned,” he said.

During its oversight visits, the portfolio committee said it discovered hundreds of houses that remain unfinished.

“Gauteng department of human settlements officials appointed to manage these projects cited challenges including vandalism and invasion of government houses by non-qualifying community members, finalisation of beneficiaries’ administration processes and issues with appointed contractors,” the committee said.

In 2020, Gauteng was one of three provinces to be stripped of a combined R400m in housing grants after failing to spend the money in 2019, according to a government gazette. Gauteng accounted for R250m of this, the Free State R118m and the Northern Cape R26m.

Maile said in a statement the department was “unable to spend R260m before the financial year-end” in 2019, but that it made an application for a roll-over of the full amount “which was then recommended and approved by the national government.

“An additional R100m was allocated after the province demonstrated its capacity to deliver on projects as dictated by national government.”

Editor's note: The original version of this story said the Gauteng government had lost R400m in housing grants, when this was a combined figure for three provinces, as indicated in a government gazette. The error has been corrected.