The days of the department of public works being run like a “cash cow” are over, minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde said in Sandton on Thursday.
“Contracts are given to people who don’t even have a clue what they are supposed to do,” she told delegates at the Engineering Council of South Africa’s summit.
There were roads and bridges falling apart around the country, and of the 41 departmental contracts reviewed by the Special Investigating Unit, all were found to be non-compliant.
“It’s a shame. I am paying for buildings that are falling apart. Many are not being used, or maintained. They are just empty.”
Mahlangu-Nkabinde took office on October 31 last year, succeeding Jeff Doidge.
She said: “When I got into public works, I discovered it was just a cash cow.”
In two separate reports this year, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela held her and national police commissioner Bheki Cele responsible for a R500-million and R1.1-billion lease agreement with businessman Roux Shabangu for police office space in Pretoria and Durban.
‘Unlawful and improper’
She found the leases were concluded in an unlawful and improper way. Madonsela criticised the department for going ahead with the deals, in spite of legal opinion to the contrary and an earlier agreement that this would not happen until the public protector had completed her investigation.
Without referring to the lease controversy, Mahlangu-Nkabinde said: “We have created a lot of millionaires who do not care what happens to this country.
“I am interfering in areas where previous people were comfortable, but I am not in it for myself, I am in it for the country and for the years to come.
“I want to remain an unpopular minister, because I will not give a ‘comrade’, who has no clue what he is doing, government projects.”
In the past weeks, her department announced it had already found R3-billion worth of tender irregularities in response to recommendations made by the protector.
The department’s application to the High Court in Pretoria to have the leases cancelled was welcomed by Madonsela, as well as Shabangu, who said he looked forward to getting “clarity” on the leases.
But, the opposition Democratic Alliance felt Mahlangu-Nkabinde was trying to “spin the story away from her and towards other people in the department”.
DA spokesperson John Steenhuisen said the minister was making statements to engineers, but had not even briefed the parliamentary committee on the matter yet.
“She is yet to come here and put her hand on her heart and say ‘I’m sorry, I messed up’.”
Mahlangu-Nkabinde said planned renovations to President Jacob Zuma’s official residence were recently quoted at R135-million.
“I don’t even think Michael Jackson could use that kind of money.”
A check was done and she was told: “If we can reach R15-million it will be too much.”
‘We have allowed thieves and thugs to run our country’
“There are unscrupulous people who just want to take money that is meant for South Africans into their pockets. We have allowed thieves and thugs to run our country.”
She asked the delegates to forward six names that Zuma could use for an infrastructure commission, saying she needed their help “yesterday”.
For example, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi would need at least 504 buildings for the rollout of National Health Insurance.
She did not know how much longer she would be in her job, and joked about her “big mouth”, but would not keep quiet just because she was a minister.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to stay. Even if it is three months it will be [three months of] good decisions.” — Sapa