No consequences yet for public works officials implicated in Beitbridge saga

An investigation launched by De Lille in April last year found that its construction was littered with incompetence and wrongdoing.

Ernest Mabuza Journalist
Zimbabweans who crossed illegally into SA to shop for groceries cross back into their country through one of the many gaps in the Beitbridge border fence.
Zimbabweans who crossed illegally into SA to shop for groceries cross back into their country through one of the many gaps in the Beitbridge border fence.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

No officials from public works and infrastructure have suffered any consequences for their roles in alleged wrongdoing in the procurement of the controversial R37m Beitbridge border fence.

Public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille said this in reply to a question by Mthokozisi Nxumalo of the IF, who asked for an update on the disciplinary process for officials implicated in the debacle involving the 40km fence.

The fence, bordering Zimbabwe and SA, was hastily built last year after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the closure of borders as part of the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

An investigation launched by De Lille in April last year found that its construction was littered with incompetence and wrongdoing. It recommended disciplinary action against 14 government officials.

In her reply, dated June 22, De Lille said the hearing for members of the bid adjudication committee was scheduled for April 21 to 24, while the hearings for senior officials was scheduled for May 4 to 6.

She said the hearing for the bid adjudication committee members proceeded on the scheduled dates, with the department leading a witness on procurement processes. That matter continued in the week of June 14 to 18 with further testimony and cross-examination of the witnesses.

However, she said the hearing for senior officials was postponed on the first sitting when one of their legal representatives failed to attend the hearing. The representative indicated that he was launching a court application to review the report and to stop the disciplinary enquiry.

The department argued that the matter should proceed and the legal representative should attend the hearing on May 5, as there was no court order interdicting the disciplinary process.

The next day, one of the officials' legal representative served the chair of the hearing and the department with a court application to review the investigative report and stop the disciplinary inquiry.

“As a result thereof, the chairperson of the hearing ruled that the disciplinary action is postponed indefinitely pending the finalisation of the court application,” said De Lille in her reply.

She added that the chair said the department would not suffer any prejudice if the postponement was granted and said the department could proceed with disciplinary action if the application was not granted.

Meanwhile, civil proceedings related to the project have been set down for trial in the Special Tribunal from October 4 to 8.

Earlier this year, the Special Tribunal dismissed an application by two contractors involved in the project arguing that the tribunal did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate on the civil recovery proceedings in the matter.

The Special Investigating Unit had asked the Tribunal to set aside the contract awarded to Caledon River Properties and ProfTeam and to recover money paid to the contractors.

The contractors had contended that the Special Tribunal could not declare and set aside the contract as that fell outside its powers.

The Special Tribunal dismissed the application by Caledon and ProfTeam in February.

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