A month on, engineers still haven’t been appointed to assess parly blaze damage
Committee also wants public works and infrastructure to answer complaints about failure to maintain public buildings
It’s almost a month since an inferno gutted parliament and the public works department is yet to appoint engineers to assess the damage and probe how the national legislature burnt down.
Acting public works and infrastructure director-general Imtiaz Fazel said on Wednesday that the process to appoint them was being concluded.
“Commencement of work is pending the appointment. We cannot provide any timelines at this stage,” he said.
On January 7 public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille said her department had put in place steps for the procurement of an independent specialist engineering team to conduct further detailed assessments of the damage to the affected buildings and testing of material strength.
She said National Treasury had agreed to expedite the process.
De Lille said in consultation with the Hawks an internal public works professional team of highly skilled structural, civil, electrical and mechanical engineers had conducted and concluded a high-level preliminary visual assessment of the damage, including safety of the site. The team arrived in Cape Town on January 3, the day after the blaze started.
While parliament and the police provided the engineers access to the old and new assembly buildings, the high temperatures and flare-up on the side of the national assembly later that day prevented their inspection until late the next day, she said.
What will happen if there is a fire and prisoners die here? What is the perception [of] South Africa [going to be]? We don’t want another Life Esidimeni. We are going to be very hard on DPWI.Bulelani Magwanishe, chairperson, portfolio committee on justice and correctional services
“On the basis of the preliminary visual inspections there is evidence of severe structural damage (major spalling) to the slabs. The slabs affected by the damage are the second, third and fourth floor. In addition to the above there are major cracks in the walls on the second and third floor,” she said at the time.
De Lille added that the team recommended the New Assembly Building be closed immediately to restrict access as it was unsafe.
The preliminary visual assessment report and photos were handed to the Hawks and could not be shared as they were evidence from a crime scene, said De Lille.
Meanwhile, the national assembly’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services has resolved to summon the department of public works and infrastructure to respond to complaints of alleged failure to maintain public buildings, such as courts and prisons.
The committee said it visited the Barberton Correctional Centre and Community Corrections as part of a week-long oversight visit to courts and correctional centres, to assess the prison’s rehabilitation, skills development and integration programmes.
The committee heard complaints about lack of maintenance at facilities, including fire extinguishers having expired or not being serviced.
Committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe was quoted in a parliamentary statement as saying: “What will happen if there is a fire and prisoners die here? What is the perception [of] South Africa [going to be]? We don’t want another Life Esidimeni. We are going to be very hard on DPWI.
“We will invite the director-general to explain why there are these types of complaints about court buildings and prisons while there are people employed every day.”
The department committed to address some of the challenges using emergency interventions, which often require deviations from normal procurement processes, according to the statement.