Expensive roadblock

Western Cape premier Helen Zille has accepted responsibility for Cape Town’s integrated rapid transit (IRT) ­system after it was revealed that costs for the first phase of the project had escalated from R1,3-billion to R4,1-billion.

“There is a very substantial paper trail on this matter,” Zille told the Mail & Guardian. “I am very happy to have my role placed under a powerful microscope.”

The transport fiasco has led to a call by the ANC for the Democratic Alliance leader to shoulder the blame. But Zille dismissed the criticism as political point-scoring, saying that all major capital projects had experienced cost increases in the past two years. Zille claimed senior officials kept back information about the escalating costs of the IRT project when she was executive mayor of Cape Town.

She was first alerted in February this year to a problem with the transport project by an independent “risk register” team appointed to keep an eye on large projects. She decided to change the management of the IRT project, but senior officials had not followed all her requests, she said.

“It was only around August that I was again alerted to the fact that there were problems relating to the cost escalation,” said Zille.

The city’s executive director for transport, roads and storm­water, Eddie Chinnappen, was then removed from the IRT project and replaced by 2010 project head Mike Marsden.

Zille said the IRT project, which includes the bus rapid transit (BRT) system and the construction of distinctive new red roads, was always to be primarily funded by the national government.

“The implications are that the project will be rolled out more slowly than initially planned,” said Zille. “Further phases will be dependent on transfers from national government.”

A revised plan will now focus on Cape Town’s commitments to Fifa as host city for the World Cup.

The city has R2,3-billion available for the first phase of the project and will implement a shuttle service between Cape Town International Airport and the central business district for the World Cup. There will be a match-day shuttle service between the CBD, the railway station and the park-and-ride points and the Green Point stadium.

Financial miscalculations have been compounded by threats by taxi operators to derail the IRT project, as some fear it will wipe out the taxi industry. But Kylie Hatton, a city spokesperson, said the council has been successful in its engagement with taxi operators, who are an integral part of the IRT plan.

Taxi bodies have been organised into companies, which will tender to run the shuttle services. Ian Neilson, Cape Town’s executive deputy mayor, said an external prosecutor and presiding officer were being appointed to head a disciplinary hearing for a city official involved in the IRT project.

An independent forensic audit was conducted into the cost escalation of the IRT project, but no fraud was uncovered. Neilson declined to name the official, but all eyes are on Chinnappen, who declined to comment.

Although an independent consultant, Lloyd Wright, who has extensive experience in designing transport systems around the world, designed the IRT project, Neilson said Wright had not signed the report.

“I do not know to what extent Wright had a hand in its drafting,” said Neilson. “In any case it is the responsibility of the city officials, each in their own aspect, to approve the report laid before council, not outside consultants.”

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